Saturday 16 December 2017

'I won't be running away with myself' - Rory O'Loughlin on his rapid rise at Leinster

Rory O’Loughlin in action during Leinster training Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Rory O’Loughlin in action during Leinster training Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Last summer, Rory O'Loughlin sat down in the kitchen with some of his family and, taking a sip of tea, drunk in some deep thinking about where his life was headed.

It seemed like an appropriate juncture in his personal and professional life. Now 22 - he celebrates his 23rd birthday next Sunday - the former St Michael's College player knew he might soon face a dilemma.

So he did what most normal folk would. He fudged. Well, kind of.

Heading into both his final year study at UCD and his last stint in the Leinster Academy, he knew he would face another year walking in and out of campus as both a student and a professional rugby player.

He wanted both but, for now at least, he wanted one more. More than six months on, he is a virtual automaton in the scoring charts, exiling the exaggerated influence of Zane Kirchner to the sidelines, and there have even been whispers of a call to Camp Joe.

It must have been a strong cup of tea.

"I don't think there was a moment," he says. "But it was just kind of talking to my brother and my mum, then some of my friends.

"Because I'm in my final year at college as well, that kind of decided it for me, it was just go all out for it this year.

"You really only get one shot at it. That was it. I went full out - not that I didn't for the two years previously.

"But I knew this would be a big year. I'm still going through it now. It's a bit tougher to get to lectures with the training though. . ."

It's been worth skipping a few classes as his rugby education speeds into a different stratosphere for the utility back. Fail to make it this year with Leinster, like some of the other young stars have done, might have seen him scratched, brutally but professionally, from the roster.

"The prospects were slowly diminishing," he admits. "I was thinking 'this is going to have to happen soon enough if it is to happen at all'.

"I got an injury at the end of last season and then going into the summer I saw an opportunity with the players away in the Ireland squad. And some guys had moved on through retirement or going to another club, so I thought there was an opportunity to get some game-time in pre-season.

"I was training constantly at 13 as Garry Ringrose and I were the only two 13s with the seniors so I got good game-time in the pre-season, which led to growing confidence and it has continued as the year has gone on.

"I never had an offer or anything like that. I'm not saying if this year hadn't gone to plan and I got an offer from Connacht and I'd not been offered to stay on here. . . it is certainly something I would have thought of.

"I wasn't going to give up the opportunity of playing professional rugby if I had the opportunity to keep playing.

"It's just that when you are at a club and you are in the Academy and you are in your final year, I just felt that's my chance to make it here and that's where all my friends and family are."

Quite simply, he had to get a move on and, as many European defences have discovered to their cost, O'Loughlin is a man in a hurry.

So busy, in fact, he hasn't even had time to proverbially pinch himself.

"I haven't really had the chance to get to that stage yet because the games have been coming along so quickly," he smiles, as he has done after every one of his seven tries this term, five of them in a recent two-game spurt.

Read More: Cullen relieved to put 'disappointing year' behind him

"Everyone asks me how I am dealing with and I just haven't had time. I'm sure when I get a break it will take me a week or two to get to grips with the whole season. It is pinch yourself sort of stuff. This time last season I wasn't really close to the first-team so it has been great."

There have been a few second looks when he has been out and about but there is little fear of him forging his own emoji any time soon. For him, instant adulation is represented in discreet nods of approbation.

Walking

"Once or twice this weekend, when I was walking around there was one or two people saying 'well done'," he says.

"The European weekends, there are a lot more people watching and it is only really this weekend that it started happening.

"I was back in St Michael's on Saturday watching the Junior Cup game and a few of the kids were coming up to me.

"That was weird enough seeing as I was only there three years ago! But I won't be running away with myself."

Instead, he will concentrate on sprinting away from the opposition. That his wheels can accelerate so, and his evasive skills allow him to duck and weave so effectively, should come as no surprise.

After the IRFU belatedly began their Sevens programme, they utilised Year One and Two Academy players; this time last year, as Leinster flunked in Europe, O'Loughlin was in sunny Dubai.

"It puts a lot pressure on your skill set," he says of the shortened format's benefit to him. "The average pass in Sevens is 15 metres off both hands and I was able to sacrifice bulk for speed."

All part of a journey gathering increasingly impressive pace.

Irish Independent

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