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O'Shea: Quin' it to win it


Conor O'Shea remains committed to Harlequins after being linked with the Ireland job

Conor O'Shea remains committed to Harlequins after being linked with the Ireland job

Conor O'Shea remains committed to Harlequins after being linked with the Ireland job

"Why train if you're not going to play?" asked Conor O'Shea in an interview last year.

When the urbane image of Harlequins was bloodied by Dean Richards tawdry disregard for the rules of the game, the London club needed a new broom to sweep the club clean.

It arrived on the doorstep of the former Ireland full-back, like Leicester Tiger Geordan Murphy, a man more appreciated by his club London Irish than his country.

Without the saga of 'Bloodgate', Harlequins would be without O'Shea. It was the trauma of poor circumstance that put the club on the road to find a force for good.

The ex-Terenure College graduate brought a sense of pizzazz back to the club located right across the road from Twickenham.

For a club whose emblem is born out of a comedic character, the joke was on the rest of England as O'Shea quickly guided Harlequins to the Aviva Premiership title in 2012.

And he did it the unconventional way, by playing an open, fast, fluid, comparatively unstructured style completely at odds with the grind of The Premiership.


"I think people sometimes look at Quins and say we don't have structure, but we have plenty of structure," reflected O'Shea.

"However, how do we want to play? We want to be as broken as possible, but there is structure within that broken field.

"I think you have to set an identity and a style of play you want to see," he said.

"If you've got people like Danny Care, Nick Evans, Mike Brown at fullback, Joe Marler, Chris Robshaw, Nick Easter; they want to play with the ball in hand," he said.

O'Shea is a cerebral thinker on the game and he buys into the Australian outlook, brought on by a packed-out sports market that you have to entertain to attract customers.

The similarities diverge here in that Quins would take winning over entertainment any day of the week, especially on Saturdays.

O'Shea takes a more romantic view: "I think you can eke your way to a certain number of wins, but really you want to control your own destiny and that's what we try to do.

"We try to go out and win things and I don't know if that's the 'right' way; everyone has their own way. This is the style that suits us.

"Actually, I think you can be talked out of playing that way, but we're not going to be talked out of it.

"We've done a lot of reflection on what we do and, if anything, we're just going to become better at making decisions on the ball, better when we go to the contact area.

"If teams are better than us and beat us, then so be it. We'll do it our way."

O'Shea is not so removed from his playing days that he has forgotten why he fell in love with it in the first place.

"When I played - 'bored' would be the wrong word - but when the energy died in terms of my playing career was when a team didn't play.

"I love playing with the ball in hands. When I was with London Irish, that's what we did. That's what got me going."

The Dubliner is the son of Kerry's three-time All-Ireland winner Jerome O'Shea and it was with his father that sowed the seed.

"Having been brought up with my dad being a Gaelic footballer, I just loved having the ball. If I didn't touch the ball I got bored."

And so Harlequins play to the tempo and template laid down by their leader.

"I want them making an impact on the game, within the structure you set out. As long as everyone buys into it, then that's fine.

"Will we win games? Yeah. Will we lose games? Yeah. But as long as we play the way we play, I say to our players, 'I really don't care'.

"The results will look after themselves and they will be what they'll be. If we get beaten, make sure it's by somebody that's better than us.


"Don't come off the pitch and say 'Ah we could have done this'. Go out and do what you do, deliver that and we'll be fine."

In fact, Leinster's European story started in front of 1,200 spectators against Milan on November 1st 1995 when a certain Conor O'Shea became their first try-scorer in the competition.

Many moons later, he will plot the downfall of his home province.

"It is incredibly exciting for this group. Leinster and Toulon are the ones who have set the benchmark in Europe in recent years," he said. "They (Leinster) showed what they are all about by coming back from 9-16 down to take victory in Castres.

"When you look at teams like Leinster and Munster, they always seem to find a way to come through in tight games."