Darren O'Shea: 'We are growing as players, we are growing as a team'
Worcester stint has Cork lock battle-hardened and determined to fight for the Munster shirt
Anthony Foley made a huge impression on the lives of so many people around Munster and Ireland, and for Darren O'Shea, he was the reason that the Cork lock returned to the province he supported as a child.
The Crosshaven native has no regrets about his two-year stint with Worcester Warriors in England - exposure to that level of rugby helped him grow into the potent force that he is today.
At at just 23, O'Shea is still in the fledgling years of his professional career, but for now, he is supremely focused on the finer aspects of the game, and being a set-piece leader has given him the responsibility he thrives on.
"I have called lineouts ever since I was young. The second-rows that do the calls have meetings every Monday and Tuesday here at Munster," says O'Shea.
"There is a bit of extra analysis, putting the extra bit of time in. I enjoy putting the time in there.
"In Worcester, I was calling lineouts and had an influence on that system which helped me grow and join a leadership role which was good over there."
As a youngster, O'Shea joined the local rugby club as five-year-old. He attended the local school, Coláiste Muire Réalt na Mara, and followed his rugby dream all the way to the Munster academy.
"I went to school in Crosshaven. That wasn't a rugby school, we didn't have a school team. My group of friends played together in every sport when we were small. It was an easy transition from sport to sport. I played hurling, football, basketball, rugby and soccer.
"I started with Crosshaven RFC and was playing all the age-grades up, down there. I played junior with them when we won a Junior All-Ireland Cup which was big for the club and community."
Crosshaven became the first Munster club to win the All-Ireland Junior Cup when they beat Connacht outfit, Monivea, 17-9 at Templeville Road in April 2011.
O'Shea started in the second-row that day and played a crucial part before he moved on to become a Munster Ulster Bank League powerhouse.
"After that I went to Cork Con to play U-21s, but I was too young at the time so I wasn't able. I ended up playing for Crosshaven again and then I moved to Dolphin.
"They gave me the opportunity to play senior and I got my academy contract and moved on from there."
The former Ireland U-19 and U-20 development squad member made his move to Sixways in 2014 and blossomed in the Championship with Worcester.
He made 22 appearances in his first season with English outfit, and left England at the end of last season having registered 27 caps and three tries for them.
It was a huge step forward in his career and O'Shea has no regrets about his time across the Irish Sea.
"I made some good friends over there. I got a baptism of fire in my first year, I played a lot of rugby and learned a lot especially as a forward. The Championship is a very tough competition physically.
"I definitely improved and grew as a player and a person. I was living abroad and experiencing a different style of rugby. It gave me an opportunity to play a higher level that I was used to.
"I'm definitely just concentrating on Munster now. I am delighted to be here. I am learning loads every day and trying to put the best foot forward all the time. But saying all that, I am trying to keep in contact with the lads over in Worcester. I have friends over there, but my concentration is solely with Munster."
O'Shea had jumped at the opportunity to return home when he got a call from Axel last season.
"I was in my last year of my Worcester contract. Axel rang me and was chatting away to me and said they were interesting in bringing me home. That's all they had to say, I could have bit their hands off for the offer. It was the team I idolised and had watched growing up."
Since he arrived back in the organisation, O'Shea has moved in with All Black centre Francis Saili in Limerick. He is starting an online investment course through IRUPA next week, and has played three times for Munster in the Pro12.
"It was a pretty easy transition for me to come back in here because there were so many lads I was in the academy with still part of the side. There are a lot of familiar faces which made it so much easier for me.
"And then seeing lads like Rory and Niall Scannell doing so well now, they are very helpful, before I even signed, I asked them a few questions and that made the transition of living here all the smoother.
"Ever since I moved into the senior set-up there is a lot more pressure.
"Other than that there are the same faces around the place. It was daunting enough thinking where I was going to slot it. But I am really happy with my decision to come back and play for Munster again.
"We are growing as players, we are growing as a team, as a family every week. The sad events of Axel's passing unified us that bit more.
"Every game we are going out there and leaving everything on the field.
"The fans have been brilliant and they are rallying behind us. We are showing what we are capable of.
"And you have lads like Niall Scannell getting their chance with Ireland now. It's great as a friend to see one of the lads working hard and constantly producing good top-quality rugby, and finally getting a well-deserved chance up there so that gives me more motivation too."