Sunday 4 December 2016

Plenty of good and bad Leinster memories but 2006 is still tops

Player Diary: Tomás O’Leary

Tomás O’Leary

Published 07/10/2016 | 02:30

Tomás O’Leary fondly remembers playing alongside Ronan O’Gara in Lansdowne Road. Photo: Sportsfile
Tomás O’Leary fondly remembers playing alongside Ronan O’Gara in Lansdowne Road. Photo: Sportsfile

In the build-up to big matches as a professional rugby player you are often asked to recall your memories of a similar big occasion that you might have played in.

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For Munster and Leinster games, almost every game I've been involved in sticks in the mind. A few of them stick in the craw too, but there has been some real special days along the way that really give this rivalry such a competitive edge to it.

Even though I only played the last 15 minutes of the game, the 2006 Heineken Cup semi-final between Munster and Leinster at the old Lansdowne Road will never be beaten in my eyes.

I came off the bench when Rob Henderson picked up an injury - he had come on as a replacement himself that day - and for the second big European game in a row I found myself in an unfamiliar position at centre.

A couple of weeks before that in the quarter-final against Perpignan - also held at Lansdowne Road - Barry Murphy missed out because of an ankle injury and I was thrown into the No 13 shirt to start one of the biggest games in Munster's history in a position I had rarely trained in.

It went well for me and we won that day, but the prospect of facing Leinster and Ireland duo Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy in the semi-final was a totally different story.

Tension

We beat them well that day as Denis Leamy, Rog and Trevor Halstead did the business for us, but even looking on from the sidelines as I did for most of the game, it is hard to describe the tension that was in the air that day.

Lansdowne Road was a really special venue for matches like that, and to a certain extent the Aviva Stadium can be just as lively - providing it is well full and plenty hangs on the game. At times like many stadiums it can be a bit dull there if it's a meaningless match, but tomorrow afternoon I expect the Aviva to be heaving with both sets of supporters baying for blood in the first huge game of the campaign.

Traditionally, this game signifies that the serious stuff is kicking off. With the lads away in Ireland camp this week and with the European Cup around the corner, the provinces like to be at full strength in preparation for the weeks ahead. So surely we'll get to see two fully-loaded squads, which hasn't happened too often in the last few years.

So far I have seen bits and pieces of Leinster and they are an impressive side. It seems like they have been integrating their internationals back into the team like we have, so I'm sure we'll see Jamie Heaslip, Johnny Sexton and Dev Toner and plenty more along with them all starting this one. It looks like it could be a real cracker.

This game will be a real indication of where we are too. The last few weeks have gone well, but this will be the real acid test for us. There has been a good few changes in the squad from week to week, but I'd imagine we'll have a better idea of how we are going after this one. A week out from Europe it's great to have this kind of challenge.

As a scrum-half, I have been having a good look at Leinster in the same positions. We are pretty familiar with Luke McGrath, he's been in and around their team for the last few years, but with Redser and Bossy gone there is a bit of change.

I've been watching Jamison Gibson-Park in the last few weeks and he seems to be a quality addition for them. He is very quick around the park and gives good service to his outside backs, but whoever starts for them at nine, it will be a good test for us.

You would have to be happy with a seven-try win like we got last weekend against Zebre, but it's about being clinical in your play when you get on top. You have to discourage teams and dampen their will to stay in the game, and the lads were very ruthless in how they went about their business. They made Zebre work hard for every yard, and once we denied them points the tries were going to come for us.

It might have seemed like a game to forget about, such was the score-line in the end, but it was a huge day for a few of the lads. Darren Sweetnam ran in his first try of the season and was man of the match. And to see he was called up to Ireland camp after that was a great boost for him.

There was also first starts for Darren O'Shea, Alex Wootton and Jaco Taute. No matter who you play or how the game goes, you'll always remember your first start at Thomond Park, so for those guys it was a huge occasion. The fact that they all excelled as well will add to the good feeling they take from the occasion. From a personal point of view, I was disappointed not to be involved, but I'm hoping to force my way back to action before too long. Like every position there is plenty of competition for places at scrum-half, but we all know that it's a long season ahead. The hope is that when Conor joins up with Ireland in the next month or so there will be a chance to get a bit of game time under my belt again. That's the approach I am taking, but I'll be ready whenever I'm called upon.

But right now all eyes are on this Leinster game. A win in this one would be a great lift for everyone involved in the province with some huge games ahead.

A Leinster derby tomorrow, Champions Cup against Racing next weekend and then Glasgow, followed by another derby away to Ulster, the season is certainly heating up. Hopefully we can carry our good recent form into these matches, meet the ramp-up in intensity and continue to pick up the results.

Irish Independent

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