Murray needs to stay at Munster – O'Gara
Published 25/10/2013 | 01:00
RONAN O'GARA's feet returned to Cork yesterday for his testimonial and you get the sense they were reunited with a heart that never left.
His life and job are in Paris now, but even when he was talking about his current club signing one of his former one's finest talents, Conor Murray, he couldn't muster the enthusiasm to pretend that he wanted it to happen. It would hurt the love of his life, and that would prove too much.
O'Gara's stint in the French capital appears to be the first leg on a journey home to one day coach Munster, but with his president Jacky Lorenzetti staying by the Lee he might have been inclined to at least pretend to back his current club in their pursuit.
Instead, he left no one in doubt as to where his loyalties truly lie.
"I think everyone who plays rugby is linked with Racing Metro now, because they have a big budget, they are an ambitious club and they want to sign the best players – and Conor fits into that category," he told Newstalk's Pat Kenny Show. "I don't think it's all talk. He has definitely been considered, but (Bayonne's) Mike Phillips is out of contract, (Castres') Rory Kockott is out of contract – there are about six or seven potential candidates, and that's how it works at the top clubs.
"As a player you wouldn't be aware of this, but when you move to the other side you become aware that it is a business, and you go after the top players.
"Conor is in that category, but you would hate to see him leave Munster, because Munster is my team, and you want the best players playing for Munster. Conor needs to stay at Munster."
Life has changed for O'Gara over the past few months in many ways, but while the transition from playing to coaching has been an upheaval, the man voted the Heineken Cup's greatest player is enjoying his time in Paris.
The French he learned to Leaving Cert level and continued into first year at UCC is coming back and the translator brought in to help himself, Jonny Sexton and the other imports has been discarded. Sight-seeing has been postponed as he has been handed plenty of responsibility by his coaches, the two Laurents – Labit and Travers.
"It is great, yeah, it's very different," he explained. "I think it is easier for me to move on, because I played for Munster for 16 years, I loved the place.
"When you're here, you have to be immersed in Munster rugby, but if you want to move on quicker it is easier when you're out of the country. It is very different, because as a player everything was geared towards a game, and I was very selfish as a player.
"Your family make huge sacrifices, but I have started a new job as a coach now and I've to be in before 8.0 and wouldn't be gone until 6.0. It is a long day. I enjoy it, but it is very different.
"I haven't had much spare time, I haven't done any of the tourist attractions or anything yet.
"It's a French club, we have many international players and French is the only language. Sometimes it's not what you say, it's how you say it especially in a sport because there are many leaders.
"You have to learn the trade, watch and grasp it, not give any inspirational team talks or anything like that."
He is busy, immersed in his work but as he returned home he was reminded of the depth of feelings he has for a club who gave him everything.
"It was a love affair, but unfortunately I'm finished now. I played for a great team with great supporters and great team-mates. I don't know if you can ask for any more, that's as simple as I can make it," he explained.
"It was that special. I get goose pimples sitting here thinking about it, because it was a special dressing-room, special players.
"At the time, you don't appreciate it but when you leave it, by God you do, because it's a wonderful club and it has changed my whole life for better without a doubt."
That love affair was reciprocated last night by the 600 people who turned out for O'Gara's testimonial in Cork City Hall, but this weekend it is back to business and the Parisian derby against Stade Francais tomorrow night.
It is another step on the road that one suspects will lead back to the place closest to his heart.
"Essentially, my plan is to try and become head coach at one of the big teams in five or 10 years' time. Like everything in my career, I think it is important to take small building blocks and build a foundation," he said.
One wonders which of those big clubs he has in mind.