Friday 22 February 2019

Donncha O'Callaghan: 'I wish I had more balls to speak out back then'

O’Callaghan: "Sometimes you have to find your voice and I think Munster have been great in identifying guys like that." Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

He knew he should have stood up and said something, but Donncha O'Callaghan allowed the moment to pass him by again.

As he looked around the dressing room, as one of the more experienced players, he would have been expected to speak up, yet O'Callaghan's mind was racked with self doubt.

Would anyone listen to him? And if they did, would they take any notice?

O'Callaghan was coming from a Munster dressing room that had won everything, but even still, he shied away from the responsibility. It wasn't the first time and it wouldn't be the last. Instead it was left to the likes of Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell to rally the troops. On the bus home, not saying anything still rankled with O'Callaghan.

"Maybe it was a confidence thing," he tells the Irish Independent.

"I remember I would chat with Drico about something coming back and I would say 'Look, I'm not comfortable with chatting about this but I think this about the weekend.'

"In a captain's meeting then, he would say 'Look, I chatted to Donners about this.' And that help me find my voice.


"But he was encouraging me there but I was too naive to actually grab it by the horns and say 'Drico, what I'm actually trying to say is this.'"

Stepping out of his comfort zone, O'Callaghan knew he would find out a lot about himself.

The extent of the learnings were laid bare however shortly after he arrived in Worcester, as the Cork native was left to reflect on how much of an impact he had in the Munster dressing room.

From the outside looking in, O'Callaghan was a real driving force behind his home province's glory days, but there are regrets.

When he joined Worcester in 2015, the club looked at the veteran lock as the ideal role model to help the club's younger players make the step up.

Three years later, O'Callaghan, now club captain, has been a hugely positive influence in Worcester, but at the end of the season, he will bring the curtain down on his impressive 20-year career.

Playing with the Premiership strugglers has shown the 38-year-old a different side of the game, yet despite his medal collection with Munster, he feels that he could have done more.

"I'll be honest, it wasn't until I went to Worcester that I found my voice," O'Callaghan admits. "I actually nearly feel like apologising to my captains. I used to look at Drico giving me a dirty look when I gave away a stupid penalty and I'd be thinking 'What's his problem? What's up with him?'

"Now I realise, that's a massive three points. That's so hard to earn. I was naive.

"I know I could have helped those guys an awful lot more by just speaking up or even self-policing. Look, I did that in certain aspects but I still feel that I could have been of more use and more help to them in other ways.

"Last week, Sammy Lewis spoke in our dressing room. It was an unbelievable chat and he had the lads hopping. I got a huge buzz out of it.

"But then I'm there thinking, 'How many times did I do that for Drico or Paulie?' It is a regret.

"You should speak up because your opinions matter. Drico was always brilliant for that with me.

"It's a respect thing as well. You don't want to feel like you're stepping on guys' toes but sometimes they don't know how good of a leader they are."

The inner sanctum of a dressing room is a powerful place, and that was typified with what Munster had in their successful period.

Try tell O'Callaghan that however, and he will point to what came before him and the foundations that were laid.

"I promise you, believe me, we have no rights to feel that way about it," he insists.

"You say that about Moss Keane or Donal Lenihan, Pat O'Hara, all the guys that went before.

"It's just tradition. You have your spell in it. You don't own it. The saying is that you get your shirt and you want to value it make it better and do better.

"That's always the thing that pushes you on and maybe it's a generic bullshit thing to say around the set-up, like 'Oh when I give it back, I want the jersey to be in a better place'.

"You get an awful lot of it as well. I was fortunately able to earn an income out of it as well for a team that you needed absolutely no motivation to play for.

"It's amazing, it's only when you go somewhere else and you realise that I actually have to get motivated for this game. Whereas I never even thought about it when I was playing for Munster. It was just, 'This is 100pc right.'

"I see it in Worcester now. Trying to create that bond in the dressing room is very, very hard, so when you have it, you have to protect it."

The current Munster dressing room is being driven by the likes of Peter O'Mahony, Conor Murray and Keith Earls - all of whom understand what it means to be from the province and what it takes to wear the red jersey.


Looking beyond their international stars, there is a greater expectancy on some of the younger players to fill the leadership void during windows such as the Six Nations.

Stalwarts like Billy Holland ensure that they are kept on the right track, but there are enough players with enough experience now to ensure that they don't make the same kind of mistakes that O'Callaghan did.

"Sometimes you have to find your voice and I think Munster have been great in identifying guys like that," he maintains.

"We always said it, these are the key weeks, when your leaders go away. You need guys to step up and I promise you, when we were successful, it was because it was being driven by the John Kellys, the Anthony Foleys when he wasn't in camp at the time, the Anthony Horgans."

O'Callaghan understands the workings of a dressing room far better than most, especially now after taking on an entirely different challenge in Worcester.

Before he returns home to his family in Cork in May, there is the small matter of helping his side remain in the Premiership.

"I've got to the point where what I thought were sacrifices, they're not," he adds. "It's me being 100pc selfish. Everything that's gone on, I need to be around home. I need to be a good dad.

"I want to find my way a bit. I look at a few of the lads who got out real quick and jumped into stuff. You can get it badly wrong."

Whatever the next step entails will be on his own terms, but when the right moment does arrive, O'Callaghan won't let it pass him by again.

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