Saturday 23 September 2017

Tackling unfinished business at top of O'Callaghan's list

Hugh Farrelly

SEVENTY-THREE caps for Ireland, one Grand Slam, four Triple Crowns, two Heineken Cups, three Celtic League titles and four Tests for the Lions, Donncha O'Callaghan's career makes for pretty impressive reading.

However, for all the honours and accolades he has accumulated over the years, the World Cup falls into the category 'unfinished business' for the 32-year-old Munster second-row. Not because Ireland have yet to win rugby's highest accolade (even the most one-eyed supporter would acknowledge that has been an unrealistic aspiration), but because they have simply failed to perform.

In 2003, O'Callaghan, who had made his debut in the previous Six Nations, had a bit-part role in Australia behind Malcolm O'Kelly and Paul O'Connell, while in 2007 as first-choice he was caught up in the collective malaise that assailed the Irish squad.

Four years on, O'Callaghan is out to prove a point.

Second-row forwards tend to hit their peak in their early 30s (think Martin Johnson and John Eales) and O'Callaghan goes into the competition on the back of impressive Six Nations and domestic campaigns. Physically and mentally, O'Callaghan is building up to battle-speed for the ultimate challenge.

"I have gone full circle," said O'Callaghan. "We are incredibly aware this time that it is all about the rugby. It was probably three or four months after it (the 2007 World Cup) that we thought 'oh my God'.

"You can do all the gym work and all the fitness courses you want and it doesn't matter compared to playing games. And there are always areas to work on. Rugby changes all the time."

O'Callaghan was part of a decent, but losing, performance against France in Bordeaux last weekend and says that defeat will spur him on in today's rematch at Lansdowne Road -- with a particular focus on improving Ireland's line-out stats.

"Everyone's been disappointed," he said. "With the line-outs, you never mind if they pinch a ball through good skill, but when it's poor execution, it p***es me off no end because it's your own mistake.

"It's mad when you start chatting about these things. It's good being down in the team room, it kind of comes from within. Fellahs have no problem putting their hand up, which is a great way to have it. Better execution this week... that would be great.

"The restarts were good and the defence was good and, to be fair, it takes a bit of time to get up to match speed. Coming back into an international, you feel like you're running around in wellies for about 10 minutes or so.

"So it was good to get a blow-out and we'd be happy with some of it, but there are points we have got to work on."

While the result is not paramount today, home wins against the French and English would send Ireland to New Zealand in good order and that is O'Callaghan's individual focus also.

"For me, it's shoulder-to-the-wheel stuff, a real personal focus and just making sure I am up to speed and that I am ready to go."

Irish Independent

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