Monday 23 September 2019

'Defeat to Racing has made us hungrier for silverware'

The Big Interview: Dave O'Callaghan

Dave O’Callaghan goes through his paces in training at UL
Dave O’Callaghan goes through his paces in training at UL

Daragh Small

With just seven appearances for the first team in 2017-'18, it might suggest that Dave O'Callaghan will not feature against Leinster this weekend, but experience like his will be critical in this huge Guinness PRO14 semi-final.

Injury robbed O'Callaghan of a more consistent campaign but since his debut in 2011-'12 the Cork native has made a profound impact for the province, and he dreams about finally adding some senior silverware on May 26.

O'Callaghan came into the set-up just after Munster's memorable 19-9 win over Leinster in the Celtic League Grand Final in May 2011.

And seven years on it will take something very special to down the Champions Cup holders, after their gruelling victory over Racing 92 in Bilbao last weekend.

"It would be unbelievable, Pete O'Mahony and Keith Earls spoke about it after the loss against Racing. How long can we be learning," says O'Callaghan.

"We have lost so many semi-finals at this stage that it would unbelievable to get a bit of silverware. But we have a massive mountain to climb to do that.

"We are aware of how tight those games can be. It didn't go our way in Racing but that made us hungrier. We have a massive game coming up against Leinster after a really tough encounter with Edinburgh.

"That was a good test coming into a semi-final against the best team in Europe."

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O'Callaghan had a stop-start season last term too, but he still managed to rack up 15 appearances for the senior side in a hugely competitive back-row.

And that has only become more difficult this season, with injury the first obstacle to overcome.

"It was a weird one. Against Treviso last season, I came down from an opposition lineout. Nine times out of ten you would land normally. I twisted in the air. I landed awkwardly and hyper-extended my knee," says O'Callaghan.

"I was in a lot of pain. Even though still after the game it felt okay. I was optimistic about it. But after some rehab and a few scans it was revealed to be an ACL rupture.

"It meant six months' rehab at least. They say six to nine months but it can vary. You have to do all of the protocols. I was well looked after by Ray McGinley, the physio, and some of the S&C guys, PJ Wilson, Adam Sheehan and Aidan O'Connell.

"For me I had a few injuries in my career so it was one of those things I have been through. It gave me that confidence to get back."


O'Callaghan had turned 28 by the time he got minutes for the first team this season. That was as a replacement in Munster's 33-5 win over Zebre on February 10.

But since then he has proven his point, and was awarded a new contract on March 7, along with props Brian Scott and Ciarán Parker.

"Your agent is speaking to Garrett Fitzgerald and whoever and there is constant communication. There was a bit of a fear that I wouldn't get another contract because I have had a few injuries," says O'Callaghan.

"You have the usual worries about whether you will get back in? Will you be selected? That stuff is out of your control. But all you can do is work on getting back in the best shape you can, working on your rugby and everything.

"That's how I focused. The chats were about getting back, getting fit and making sure everything was right. There will be opportunities.

"That is what I focused on and I hoped the contract situation would look after itself if I got back in good shape."

O'Callaghan has scored four tries and 82 caps for Munster, while he has featured in seven seasons for the province. And even though it's more difficult than ever to reach the ton, he is relishing the challenge.

"It's only getting more competitive. Chris Cloete came in this year and dislodged Tommy O'Donnell, a guy who has been an outstanding performer for Munster in the last number of years. Jack O'Donoghue as well is in there now. He is starting and playing really well," says O'Callaghan.

"You are not just looking at the three guys there, it's the guys below them as well. Robin Copeland is in the form of his life as well. There is so much quality there. Pete O'Mahony and CJ Stander are British & Irish Lions too.

"If you look throughout Europe the best teams always have massive competition in their back-row and we have that too. It's only good for your game and the team that there is that competition. We all feed off each other.

"We are all competing and it only serves to make us better."

And this weekend Munster will come up against one of the best back-row units in Europe when they make the short trip to the RDS.

It's a chance to reach successive PRO14 finals, and O'Callaghan is determined to get something out of this season before he puts everything into 2018-'19 again.

"This season isn't over yet for me hopefully. We still have something big to play for," says O'Callaghan.

"Then it will be about recuperating, getting a bit of time away and then coming into it, it would be good to get a pre-season without an injury, get a good run at it.

"Johann would be looking to implement more of his methods at the start of a pre-season. It's tough for him to come in halfway into a season. We will see more of his shape to our Munster side and that stuff.

"I am looking forward to that."

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