Friday 24 November 2017

Despite my exams, I’ve been like a kid waiting for Christmas all week

Jack O’Donoghue in action during training in UL
Jack O’Donoghue in action during training in UL

Jack O'Donoghue

In case I wasn’t busy enough this week with the six-day turnaround between games, I have been stuck in the library at UL all week putting the finishing touches to my study ahead of my exams.

It could be worse: I could be studying engineering or something and have ten exams, but yesterday’s Pharmaceutical Formulation exam had me on my toes. It didn’t go too bad thankfully, and after the game tomorrow I’ll be back at the books again to finish my work for the Process Technology 4 exam on Monday.

Despite keeping the head down in the library all week, I still managed to keep up to scratch with training. It meant a few busy evenings, and both responsibilities are very important to me, but I really want to try and do the best that I can on the pitch if I’m involved tomorrow against Leicester.

Last Sunday was a tough trip, though. I didn’t get a jersey but I was 24th man over in Wales. It was quite frustrating to be watching on – you can see opportunities and spaces a lot better from the stand. It was frustrating to see that we didn’t capitalise on the opportunities we got when we were in their ‘22’.


Improving that aspect of our game will be a big focus this weekend: when we get into that scoring zone we have to be clinical and accurate.

With the Dragons, the majority of times they got into the 22 they came away with points, whether it was a penalty, drop-goal or a try.

There was a significant difference on the scoreboard at the end, but that didn’t reflect the game, we felt. That was a bit annoying.

The 24th man is a tough role to play. At first you have the disappointment of not being in the squad, but there is that bit of hope that you might get called on at the last minute. You have to be ready to play at a moment’s notice – anything can happen in the warm-up, travelling or in the captain’s run.

You have to treat it as if you are involved, you have to have the same mentality as if you’re named in the back-row. Then when everyone makes it though you get that small bit of disappointment again, once you hear you’re not needed the reality sets in.

You have to expect it being No 24, but it’s always a bit deflating.

It’s a funny position to be in: you’re there with the lads, geeing them up for the game and then you’re off up to the stand to watch the action.

You help tidy up after the game, especially on an away trip when you are trying to catch a flight home, but your big duty other than that is to be an extra pair of eyes for the replacements and coaches.

If you spot something that one of the lads could benefit from you’re expected to say your piece. You don’t sit there daydreaming for 80 minutes.

After the Connacht game there was huge disappointment and we had hoped to use the Dragons game as one to launch us into Europe.

We were keen to put the things we learned against Connacht into practice and really be in a good place for back-to-back European games with Leicester Tigers.

This weekend we are facing a top class Tigers team. We saw them against Worcester, they were 17-0 down at half-time but came back to win with a bonus point. That’s what we’re up against tomorrow. We can’t afford to not perform on the day, otherwise it’s not going to end well.

Their backs have been on form and have been scoring tries from all over the field, so defensively we really have to front up.

We have to dominate them up front with the forwards, where they have a traditional, physical English pack.

With the conditions and storms that have been around, we could well see a massive battle up font.

It’ll be a massive challenge and everyone in the squad is looking forward to it. Training has been good all week and this is really going to be an exciting encounter.

Because we had a six-day turnaround the week was a bit compressed. Some lads that played in Dragons had a down day on Monday, before we reviewed the Dragons game on Tuesday morning.

That was a tough day, there was plenty of aggression vented in that pitch session. But that’s good too, you know that if lads are laying a marker down against each other for selection that they’ll be ready to tear into the Tigers tomorrow. That’s what you want beside you.

I made my Champions Cup debut against Treviso, but this week feels different. This is the match that you want to be involved in. Leicester versus Munster, through the years there have been some epic battles. Thomond Park with a kick-off on a Saturday in the dark. This is it; this is what you want to experience.

I’ve been there in the stand watching these games, so to be involved in a heaving Thomond Park will be incredible.

My first game at Thomond was when Munster played Wasps back in 2008, the year we went on to win it for the second time.

Thomond Park was being renovated at the time, it was lashing rain, but it didn’t matter at all. The buzz around the place was incredible and when Denis Leamy scored a try at the end we went nuts. That day will stay with me for years, it was something special.

Tomorrow will be nerve-wracking, but it will be so exciting too.

I’ve been like a kid waiting for Christmas all week, so hopefully I’m involved and get the chance to play my own part in a big Thomond Park night.

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