Saturday 24 February 2018

'It's the stuff you dream about growing up'

Rory O’Loughlin in pensive mood at a Leinster press conference ahead of tomorrow’s match against Connacht Picture: Sportsfile
Rory O’Loughlin in pensive mood at a Leinster press conference ahead of tomorrow’s match against Connacht Picture: Sportsfile
Rory O’Loughlin wearing the St Michael’s colours Picture: Sportsfile

Marcus Ó Buachalla

Rory O'Loughlin isn't quite pinching himself but he's not far off it. The 22-year-old has in some people's eyes had a meteoric rise this season. The Leinster Academy back has started against Munster and against Cardiff Blues as well as featuring against the Glasgow Warriors and Treviso off the bench.

Significant contributions for a player that some hadn't heard of until now.

"I suppose I've had my fair share of bad luck with injuries but coming into this season in my head I was saying, 'Look this is your third season in the Academy and if the chances do come your way you have to take them' so I was just focused on getting a good pre-season and seeing where that got me."

It got him a few runs in the pre-season games and they went very well for him. He played against Ulster, Gloucester and then Bath with a try to his name against Gloucester and a few electric breaks in the other games.

"I suppose so. I think playing against Bath in particular in Donnybrook was a big moment for me as I felt if I could compete in that environment against a team like that, against international opposition so I can't be too far off where I need to be.

"That was a big night for me. It wasn't perfect by any means but I suppose for me having missed so many games with injury and what not, it helped the confidence levels massively."

Pre-season promise soon led to early-season caps.

First at home in the RDS against Treviso. Then away to the former Pro12 champions Glasgow. Then a first start again away from home against Cardiff before finally the big one. Munster in the Aviva.

"It was incredible. I wasn't expecting to be involved to be honest but then a slot opened up on the wing. I can't describe it to be honest.

"These are the games that you watch as a young lad. I remember being eight or nine and going with my dad and brother Barry to Leinster games in Donnybrook. We were members in Bective so we got in for free which was great!


"But I remember these games and to be honest more often than not those memories aren't of wins but are of losses but obviously there was then that huge win in 2009 against them in Europe and then other wins thereafter and you'd be watching players like Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll going up against Ronan O'Gara and Peter Stringer and these lads. Legends of the game.

"Then suddenly you're the one in that spotlight. I can't really describe or do justice to how that felt."

His family were there in the Aviva to cheer him on but he couldn't pick them out in a crowd of over 40,000. He couldn't even pick out a mate five yards away.

"I was definitely nervous in the build-up during the game and though most of the play went Isa's way on the opposite wing you never know when you'll be called into action so you try to stay in the moment. Stay focused.

"A mate of mine was a steward in the Aviva that day. He was yards away from me and yet I didn't notice him. And the same with my family. I just know they were there supporting me and enjoying the moment as much as I was.

"I mean only a few years ago I was in the stand watching on yet there I was on the team bus, with a Garda escort driving past my house on the way to the Aviva.

"It's the stuff you dream about growing up so to have it come true, I don't know, it's still surreal."

Tomorrow afternoon should bring about another pinch-me moment as he lines out opposite his old mucker from Bective and St Michael's days, Cian Kelleher.

"It's going to be very odd. I have known Cian since we were two. Neighbours. Then we played minis together when we were four or five in Bective.

"Same schools, played age grade, into the Academy and all of that. I actually don't think I've ever faced him before so if we do come face to face in a one-on-one it will be a first!


But you just have to treat him like anyone else in that green jersey…but I'm sure we'll have a quiet chat at some stage."

Treating him like anyone else in a green jersey is taken seriously. As we catch up he is just after closing his laptop. The man on the screen? Kelleher himself.

"It's odd alright analysing him but he's one of their key attacking threats so yeah, he's a threat that we will take very seriously.

"He has brilliant pace so you don't want to be isolated against him but hopefully we can keep him quiet. That's the aim."

O'Loughlin won't have to deal with Kelleher all on his own but whereas in previous years they could rely on seasoned campaigners like D'Arcy and O'Driscoll and even Te'o, Madigan and Fitzgerald, the new breed of Leinster back is a younger model entirely.

Luke McGrath, Joey Carbery, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw and O'Loughlin are all in their early twenties but there are still mature heads in and amongst them.

"I like the fact that so many of us are on the same journey, sharing the same experiences like first caps or first starts.

"We all know that nobody is going out to make mistakes, but they will happen. So there is an overall understanding of what the other is going through and that's a comfort.

"But then you have the likes of Isa and Zane Kirchner or Rob Kearney or Johnny Sexton in the mix too.

"So, yes, maybe the age profile is changing a little bit but we have huge experience around us too and those lads have played in and seen most situations so they are like another coach or two on the pitch the way they talk and control things.

"I think it's neither one thing nor the other. I just think it's a really nice mix we have at the moment and we are all enjoying it."

The Connacht story has been well told. Pro12 champions coming to town having beaten Leinster in the final, back to playing their best rugby over the last four weekends. Scoring tries for fun. Playing it from anywhere.

But the O'Loughlin story has a few chapters to run still.

"I'll focus on Connacht first up and the challenge they present but of course I look at those Champions Cup fixtures in December and January and I'd love to get a taste of European rugby.

"I've been involved in most match-day squads this season even as 24th man so hopefully I'll get that chance.

"But for now with the reigning champions coming to the RDS I've enough to be worrying about!"

Irish Independent

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