O'Loughlin glad to be centre of attention
When Rory O'Loughlin was a chiseller, he used to bunk in to Leinster matches for free. He still does. A lot has changed in 13 years, though. For one thing, Leinster actually pay him a few quid. And he is allowed to, shall we say, walk on the grass. A boy's - and a boys' - own story.
Back then, in the Donnybrook days, dad used to ferry young Rory and Barry surreptitiously through the gates at the Bective. It was the fag end of Ireland's glacial transition to professionalism and things were done differently then.
This weekend at the RDS as Leinster host Ulster, Rory will return the favour to his old man; he owes him that much.
In those formative years, a gaggle-eyed youngster was wowed by Brian O'Driscoll in the No.13 jersey. He never knew that the almost limitless want in his heart to actually wear the same suit would ever be fulfilled.
But here he is. An overnight sensation to some of those, at least, who wouldn't recognise him walking down Grafton Street, at 22 years of age O'Loughlin likes to think it is about time.
There's a good chance he won't wear 13 this weekend as Garry Ringrose will return by order of the IRFU's micro-management of how much rugby supporters are allowed festive fun. No matter.
For him, 2016 has represented one sharp upward graph and he aims to bolt into 2017 without a break in stride.
"Yeah, absolutely," says one of a hat-trick of St Michael's alumni to make their European debuts last month - an ongoing, ever-flowing reservoir of talent emerging from the very heart of Dublin 4.
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"I remember in pre-season just hoping to get my first cap and then building on that. The game in Thomond on Monday was my 10th game of the season out of 15, so I'm delighted with how it has gone.
"Once you're playing these games you get more and more involved in the group. It becomes more normal, which allows you express yourself more. I'm enjoying my rugby as well, now that I'm pretty much involved full-time. So, yeah, I'm delighted with how it's gone so far."
When Stuart Lancaster arrived this season, he added to the earlier endorsement from Graham Henry that Leinster has enough innate talent in the province to ensure they should not wallow in the misery of last season's misfiring campaign. O'Loughlin has been one of the beneficiaries and has repaid the faith invested in him.
"Yeah, they're happy with how it's going at the moment," he says.
"Obviously there is stuff you need to work on and you constantly need to get better and they're saying that. But they're happy with how I'm going.
"As well as that, I'm both on the wing and at centre and I wouldn't have been as used to playing on the wing. But obviously if it means I'm going to be playing I'm more than happy to do it.
"When I've been playing there, there have been small things that I've been getting wrong, but Isa Nacewa has been helping me a bit and Adam Byrne and the likes of that have been playing there so long, it's just slowly, slowly I'm getting used to it. The feedback has been good."
From a time when Leinster's midfield housed global stars such as D'Arcy, O'Driscoll and Fitzgerald, there are greenhorns there now, but emerging stars in their own right; Messrs Henshaw and Ringrose seem like a World Cup 2019 combination in the making.
O'Loughlin was once a team-mate of Ringrose.
"Myself and Garry competed at U-20s and obviously he's gone ahead of me there. It's good because we're both kind of learning together, but it is difficult once the European games come around and Garry is going in at 13 or whatever.
"But we've a good relationship. We're constantly improving each other. I wouldn't say it's an awkward relationship, but it just means that I'm going to have to become more adaptable in the positions I can play.
"And then when I do get the chance at 13, to show I can compete as best I can, which is going to make us both better at the end of the day."
O'Loughlin has imposed himself on the Leinster game, but now he needs to impose himself on the players, too.
"Garry is very composed in attack, especially. He reads the game very well and is good at organising forwards and getting the shape in play to get the ball to where he wants, whereas that's where I've struggled," says O'Loughlin.
"Well, I've gotten better at it, but at the start of the season I found it quite difficult, bossing players that are a good bit older than me that played internationally. You just have to forget about all that and realise that you're all on the same team, you're all senior players and they're going to listen to you, they respect you.
"It makes it easier when the older guys are looking to you, but I think when you're coming out of the academy at the start, you have the impression that you need to earn your spot on the team. It's not until you kind of feel comfortable with your spot on the team that you have the confidence to do that."
He combined with another ex-Michael's boy Ross Byrne to great effect in the recent double thumping of Northampton, with the out-half cross-kicking for O'Loughlin to score in the away tie.
"I would never have played on the wing in school when he was out-half, so I'm not sure he's ever kicked a ball like that for me before!" he smiles.
"I only really started playing properly there when I was 13, but there's some lads in there that were playing from U-9 constantly the whole way up, three days a week. It's always going to be improving constantly.
"I've had to learn fast, but I think that's probably the best way to do it. Again, the small things like reading the body language of an out-half, when to sit off a defensive line and stuff like that.
"That's not what I'd be used to at 13 and even the odd time getting caught in the middle of the field off phase play.
"Because I'd be naturally in the centre, whereas you're leaving someone exposed on the wing who's not supposed to be there. It's about learning from mistakes. I'm slowly getting there."
He is. And even though he's come a long way, he's not there yet. But he doesn't mind paying his dues. And it helps that he still doesn't have to pay at the gate.