Tuesday 15 October 2019

Conor Oliver: 'All of our focus is now on trying to get that trophy'

Big interview: Conor Oliver

Conor Oliver going through his paces
Conor Oliver going through his paces

Daragh Small

From operating toy helicopters to sitting in the cockpit of a real plane, Conor Oliver hopes to make the miraculous transition this year.

A self-proclaimed daredevil, the Skerries native used to skate around Dublin City, performing stunts and tricks that sometimes came off and other times resulted in a broken foot here and there.

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Jumping down massive outdoor stairs isn't exactly conducive to the lifestyle of a professional rugby player, so he's put that on the back-burner for the time being at least.

"I loved skateboarding and BMX when I was younger," says Oliver.

"I used to skate around Dublin while I was growing up. It was a massive part of my life. I didn't know what I wanted to do with rugby or skateboarding, or go to college and down that route.

"There is a few skateboarders who have gone pro in Ireland. But there is not that much money in it. It is more paid trips and would be tough to make a living off it. I just enjoyed it so much that I didn't mind what I was doing outside of it.

"Rugby and skateboarding don't really go hand in hand and not many rugby players would do it. I have a long board now and I can go around on that. That is just to cruise around.

"I wouldn't be jumping down stairs anymore. I broke my metatarsal in my foot about three times from skateboarding.

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"My dad wasn't too happy with that. He pushed me towards rugby and thank God it paid off. I can always go back."

But his next venture will see Oliver heading for the clouds instead, after he was inspired to pick up flying by team-mates Arno Botha and Darren Sweetnam.

"Marcus Horan is the IRUPA guy in Munster and I was chatting to him about it," says Oliver.

"I am not really interested in going back to college. I find it hard with training and couldn't balance it. I might get a flight simulator to see if I like it but the boys seem to.

"It is not something I have always thought of being as a kid. But it is a good option for life after rugby. It would be a pretty solid job to go into. It would be interesting.

Flying

"I have never flown anything. I had a remote-control helicopter as a kid but that is as far as I got. I actually bought one in the pound shop last year when I was bored. I was flying it around the house."

The 23-year-old openside flanker wasn't in the Ricoh Arena last Saturday. His housemates Jeremy Loughman and Joey Carbery were away, and he was forced to grin and bear Munster's Champions Cup defeat to Saracens at his house in Limerick, alone.

"I wouldn't be shouting at the TV or anything. It's handy being able to rewind it when you're at home as well," says Oliver.

"But I didn't enjoy the second half the last day. I enjoy watching Munster but outside of that I don't watch much rugby. Obviously, we train and analyse other teams, but if there is a game that doesn't affect where we stand I wouldn't bother watching it, I would rather get out and do something else."

Oliver joined the Munster academy from Leinster's underage system in 2015-'16, he was Munster's academy player of the year in 2017, and graduated onto a full-time contract this year after a development deal.

But the No 7 competition has never been so strong and a couple of big shoulder and toe injuries have curtailed his involvements in recent seasons.

It was a freak accident in training that cost Oliver so much game-time this season, but after surgery on his foot he's back in action. It has been a slow return to fitness for the talented openside flanker and he is eager to catch more game-time as soon as possible.

Oliver has scored four tries in 26 appearances since his PRO14 debut away to Glasgow in February 2016, and knows he needs to step things up to see off his fellow opensiders.

"I'm back a while now. I'm just finding it hard to get on with it," he says.

"Obviously, Jack O'Donoghue is playing seven now as well. I would probably be third choice at the moment. Especially at this time of the season where there aren't that many opportunities.

"I have just been unlucky with injuries and then there are new signings in the back-row, and you have to try to prove yourself.

"I was on that Boston trip. I played the first game and got concussed with about 20 minutes to go. But it was a good trip.

"Obviously, their rugby wouldn't be the top standard. It would be up and round the top AIL teams. It is tough going from AIL to trying to play well in a pro game. The dynamic is completely different.

"It's just trying to get back in the professional mode."

Oliver has featured in the All-Ireland League this season with Garryowen, but he has only started three games in a Munster senior jersey, along with a replacement appearance against Zebre. The trip abroad came at the right time.

"I wasn't really playing. I was just coming in and doing fitness. I was coming in on Fridays and doing conditioning because I wasn't playing. That can get repetitive," says Oliver.

"It was deadly to get away. Boston is a cool city. We got to see a good bit of it. I got to see a Boston Celtics game too.

Bittersweet

"There were only a few senior lads there: me, Dave O'Callaghan, Duncan Williams, James Hart and Alex Wootton. It was mainly academy. I think 28 players and four management went over."

But Oliver still could have a massive part to play as Munster go in search of their first piece of silverware at senior level since they won the league in 2011.

"It would be bittersweet if we won the PRO14 because we don't have the opportunity in the Champions Cup," said Oliver.

"But all of our focus is now on trying to get that trophy, something to show for the amount of hard work that all of the lads have put in throughout the year. To come away empty-handed again is tough to take.

"It would mean everything to the team and the coaches. We are good enough to get there.

"We have had a few tough games and we need that change of mindset and energy from the European Cup into the PRO14 now."

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