Monday 11 December 2017

Homecoming hero Ronan O'Gara warmed by embrace of the town he loves so well

Racing 92 defence coach Ronan O'Gara, left, and Racing 92 backs coach Laurent Labit ahead of the European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 1 Round 6 match between Munster and Racing 92 at Thomond Park
Racing 92 defence coach Ronan O'Gara, left, and Racing 92 backs coach Laurent Labit ahead of the European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 1 Round 6 match between Munster and Racing 92 at Thomond Park
‘I’d have just loved if Dan Carter was playing,’ says Racing 92 coach Ronan O’Gara. ‘I’d have loved it from a really selfish point of view.' Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Ronan O'Gara walked down Denmark Street on Friday night with his padded jacket buttoned up to ward off the freezing onset of the darkness.

He would have been just as well off wearing flip flops and a T-shirt, such was the warmth that bounced off every human face he encountered.

His head swelled with genuine feeling, but what he really wanted was to be among those same faces 24 hours later with his head held just as high and a beer in hand.

Humiliated in Paris just a fortnight ago in his professional home, he dared not suffer a repeat as he returned to the spiritual dwelling he had graced since 1997.

"Absolutely, that is important, absolutely," he said after the tonking two weeks ago that had hit him like a "ton of bricks".

"Firstly, it shouldn't happen with the quality of team we have and, secondly, 50 teams of the 60 that have come here have got walloped."

Many have wondered what it might be like for O'Gara to become a head coach; this week offered a glimpse of that tantalising future.

Effectively, head coaches Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers handed the Corkman free rein to run the show, as he put it himself.

And, aside from taking a momentary dash to the home, rather than away, dressing-room - call it force of habit - the 39-year-old didn't put a foot wrong.

He made his galacticos aware of just why Thomond Park meant so much and if it had that effect on him, then it stood to reason they might get the message that it should bloody well matter to them as well.

Ronan O'Gara ahead of the European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 1 Round 6 match between Munster and Racing Metro 92 at Thomond Park
Ronan O'Gara ahead of the European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 1 Round 6 match between Munster and Racing Metro 92 at Thomond Park

"Sure, they did," he agreed. "I was proud of the boys tonight. In fairness, it was a bigger responsibility. I must say I enjoyed it. Honesty of performance was the message.

"That was all I stressed. I just said it's 60 European games and four teams have escaped here with a win.

"So I asked them: 'Is it realistic to win?' A few of them said: 'Yeah, maybe.' I said: 'From my point of view, it's that we can look each other in the eye afterwards and have a beer and get on with the season.'

"We can do that now because we dug in there, we hung in there. It was easy to fall at times, but the lads didn't fall and that's an important trait.

"Character is crucial and we didn't fall. We just weren't clinical.

"You should never be happy with a defeat, the first thing I said to them was 'we're disappointed, but there's plenty of positive learnings' and we've got to kick on and try and drive it on."

Lyon next week marks the beginning of five eminently winnable games that could propel the reigning French champions from mid-table mediocrity into the top four.

"This was a marker, I think there were a lot of positives. They were better, but if we had a little bit more...

"I'd have just loved if Dan Carter was playing, you know. I'd have loved it from a really selfish point of view.

"That's the other side of me, I'd have loved if we were going on both fronts, we could come here and the world's best out-half could make it a different game.

"The other side of it then is why aren't they doing it every week? I mean, you can't do it every week, but if you don't get inspired here, where are you going to get inspired to play?

"This is a great stadium and that's why it's easy to play. If you can't get up for tonight you may as well retire. If you work on something, you want to be the best at it."

That desire fuelled his playing career and it continues to drive him now.

"I've two-and-a-half years where I am. A lot can happen in sport, you can get fired, you could keep going, but I look upon this coaching game as a marathon," he said.

"I don't look upon it as a quick outcome, so if you feel valued in your environment you keep going.

"It's very different, playing to coaching, it's not really related. It's something I am understanding, but it's understanding in the fast lane.

"I think it is easy to criticise the Top 14, but you've got to really live it and really experience what it is all about.

"It's a completely different structure. French rugby isn't anything like Irish rugby because it's all about the national team in Ireland.

"In France, it is all about the clubs. It's all about results, whereas here it's about performances, if you understand me, because there is no relegation in the Pro12.

"You kill whatever town or two that go down, get relegated, in the Top 14. I think that creates its own pressure in there and they are too influenced by results that they neglect performance.

"But you look at a team like Clermont and even us, going back a few months. When they get it right they are unbelievably good teams."

And O'Gara is learning all the time.

"If you want to coach Munster you have to be a really good coach. I'm not a really good coach so I have to work on that, go see how other teams and other cultures work. Then, when I get that right, I may be in a position to put my hand up, but you've got to earn that."

He doesn't have to earn Limerick's warm embrace, though.

"I forgot how good this place was if you're a Munster player. Really special, really warming.

"The people were genuinely decent. When you go away you get on with your own work and what you need to do.

"But coming in on the bus was really cool, all the Munster flags, and unfortunately it's only when you're finished you appreciate how good Munster have it.

"To be fair, it's probably one of the best atmospheres in world rugby. It is that good. That's not an understatement."

The day will come when he wins here once more.

Indo Sport

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport