Back from injury and blazing trail with some big displays
Versatile forward puts his knee concerns behind him as he makes up for lost time
We associate lengthy injury lay-offs with cruciate ligament injuries or broken limbs, but little did Dave O'Callaghan imagine that he'd spend nine months recovering from tendinitis.
It's probably a simplification of his affliction to just call it 'tendinitis'. After years of knee complaints, the tendon in his knee finally ruptured against Zebre 12 months ago next week.
The official diagnosis was patellar tendon damage to his knee, with an expected six-month recovery. Perversely, the injury lay-off came as a small bit of relief for the powerful forward.
"The lay-off was actually a bit longer than I thought it would be, but it is probably good in the way that it was. I finally put the knee issue to bed," says O'Callaghan.
"I had struggled with it for the past couple of years with a bit of tendinitis, but it eventually came to a point where the knee tendon just ruptured completely.
"Sometimes, I have been told by the medical staff, you need that to happen though. To just get a full reconstruction of the tendon and build it up and start from scratch can often be the best thing and luckily I have had no pain since.
"We had a six-month period in mind but we were also aware that it could be longer or shorter depending how recovery was. There was no panic there except it was a bit frustrating for me as I waited to get back. But in the end there has been no issue or problems so I was probably better taking the eight months and not rushing it after all.
"Being out for so long it does take that bit longer to get sharp again, but the lads were very good with me, the S & C guys and the physios. They were patient with me and just put me through the various steps so I could regain my fitness."
Game time has come thick and fast since he made his tentative return last November against Dragons. A six-minute appearance from the bench was just the taste he needed, because he has featured in seven of the nine games since.
Top of that list was the St Stephen's Day victory over Leinster. Although he didn't start the game, his 29-minute cameo featured his first senior try for Munster. Scoring that at home against the old enemy so soon after that mammoth lay-off meant a lot to the 25-year-old Youghal man.
"Yeah, that was a good landmark. In an inter-provincial game like that as well it was good to get over.
"It was my first try for Munster. It was just about getting a lot of minutes off the bench and luckily I got that try. It is obviously great to score in Thomond Park. Help us on to a good victory and a good inter-pro win.
"Axel put me on the bench for a couple of games, and I got five minutes off the bench against the Dragons. That was my first outing, it wasn't much but even that was to be back into the swing of things and back into the match-day squad.
"Then I got a lot of time against Leinster and I have been looking for every opportunity to get on the pitch. I would never have got too many tries and it is something I will obviously try to improve on.
"But it is not all about scoring tries - it is good when it happens but you would like to think you can bring a lot to the game without it."
The arrival of a one-year contract extension last month was a further lift for the 25-year-old, and he was thrilled to sign on with the province after seamless discussions.
"It was straightforward really. It was good to just get it over and done with. A lot of lads at the moment were chatting and mine was relatively straightforward and a bit of a relief for me after the injury," he adds.
O'Callaghan's injury woes are hopefully firmly in the past, but in the short term he is likely to see plenty of game time to make up for it. With Peter O'Mahony, Tommy O'Donnell and the injured CJ Stander absent from the back-row, Paul O'Connell and Dave Foley (injured) from the second-row, and Robin Copeland also knocking on Joe Schmidt's door, O'Callaghan has become one of the most crucial cogs in Anthony Foley's pack.
His versatility to switch between lock and back-row is a major asset for him now and he is likely to cruise through into double-digit appearances for the season in the coming weeks.
"As a squad one of our goals at the start of the year was to get as many fellas as we can into the Irish set-up and that hasn't changed. We know with good performances that will happen.
"I would hope I will be busy in the next while. With the internationals away it is a full squad focus really over the next couple of weeks and I will obviously be looking to hopefully get a lot of time.
"It will mean guys that have been on the periphery might come in to start and we will need leaders over the next couple of weeks. We will be hoping to drive it on there.
"I would be primarily a back-row in my own mind. But it is the way the game has gone. That you need to be able to play a few positions. If I am called upon in the second-row, I think I can do a job.
"I still consider myself a back-row that can cover second-row. I am not sure what the future will hold in that. I am just enjoying playing at six at the moment and I hope that continues.
"But we all know you can't play every week whether it be injury or rests that keep you out. From my point of view, having been out for so long I think I am that bit fresher. I would hope to be heavily involved in the next block of games"