‘It’s a home game for me too’ – Ronan O’Gara relishing Lansdowne Road return as he targets back-to-back titles
Ronan O’Gara is relishing his return to Lansdowne Road and says his La Rochelle side is ready to kick on and win a second successive Heineken Champions Cup title.
The Corkman sported a red club hoodie to his eve of match press conference in Dublin today and said he wants his team to cope with the experience of being the away team in tomorrow’s final.
Last year, he and his family shared emotional celebrations on the pitch in Marseille after his team came back from 18-10 down to defeat Leo Cullen’s side.
And he wants to taste victory again at a venue he played at 45 times for Ireland.
"It’s a home game for me too, you forget. I have such great memories in this stadium, the minute I walked through, I was like I can’t believe I'm here.
"You're in a bit of a time warp because you’re focused, but when you stand back from it, it will be a fantastic occasion and there's a lot to be proud of but now is not the moment to be reflective.
"It's time to drive on, get the best out of our players.
"There has to be disbelief at the final whistle last year. In my head, there was days driving home going ‘Where are we going with this?' Coaching is lonely, it's tough, you question a lot and then you get a return like that in Marseille.
"The first 60 minutes are, 'Did this happen?' When you try to piece it together, there's disbelief. These guys, their wishlist had a Bouclier first but now that they've captured Europe, they've got a taste for it and the love it.
"We want to go again. No one's talking about Tip 14 semi-final because it doesn’t matter, all that matters is tomorrow.
"This group, we’re good. We have probably learned from two finals and we don’t want that taste of what happened in year one in the journey. We want to kick on."
O’Gara knows that the crowd will be largely decked out in blue, but he believes his senior players can bring the less experienced charges through.
"We going in there tomorrow and we'll either grow or shrink,” he said.
“What I've seen from my boys is they love it, they care for each other, they've prepared all season for this game and it's to be attacked than be feared.
“As a player I would have been damn nervous, as a coach I'm extremely excited about it.
“Where else do you want to be? It's a Heineken Cup final in Dublin and we're ready to go?
“It’s the beauty of sport, that's the fascination, on paper it (being away from home) seems fine.
“We were all told that in the Matmut, the stadium for the Bordeaux semi-final, there would be plenty of La Rochelle fans but sounds good but then you go there and 'oh wow' it's something else.
“And it gives energy and a life our team, it's going to be opposite tomorrow for our guys. Some of our guys are experienced and they will thrive, some guys might shrink a bit.
“You hope guys like Greg (Alldritt) and Brice (Dulin) will bring them along.
“Leinster are going to have purple patches for sure. It's just how we manage those pressure moments will decide how the game goes.
“Over the 80 minutes there should be enough of an opportunity for us to play rugby, to impose our game, that’s what we’re banking on as opposed to taking the home crowd on full on, you know.”
And, while so much of the focus in Ireland is on O’Gara’s role, the former Munster and Ireland star himself played down his influence.
"The game is played by players, I have a role in the environment, but to connect and to get the best out of each other, all great teams are driven by the players,” he said.
"You can overestimate the role of the manager. These guys look out for each other, they care for each other.
"The culture has changed in our club. We don’t have much turnover like had a few years ago. There's a nice bit of stability, a nice bit of competition, they understand what want to do.
“They want to create the best memories between them for each other that when they're retired on the couch washed-up, they have something to look back on. To me, that's what rugby is about.
"Do you win all the time? No you don't. Do you have massive disappointments? Of course you do. But sometimes the disappointment serve you well.
"We lost the Top 14 final, we lost the European Cup final, now it's our time to strike.”