Friday 24 November 2017

'Everything is personally designed down to a T for all of us'

Losing up to 2kg in training means an eating plan is as vital as a game plan for the back-row

Declan Rooney

The life of pro rugby star is not all glitz and glamour. On the eve of Munster's departure to Italy for a 10-day training camp on the shores of Lake Garda, it may be hard to deliver that message, but back-row Dave O'Callaghan insists it is far from a cakewalk being a Munster player.

All we get to see from the outside is an 80-minute window on a Friday or Saturday, where teams empty their tanks in the quest to capture league points or a spot in the next round. We don't see the preparation that goes into getting there.

On a typical field session during the week, O'Callaghan (23) reckons he could easily lose 2kg, such is the effort and toil that they are put through as they prime their engines for match day.

Losing that amount of body mass is a major no-no for a rugby player, especially a back-row, so a rigorous, tailored eating plan has to be adhered to by everyone. And it starts first thing in the morning he says.

"It really is all about getting as many calories as possible into you, which is not the nicest thing to do," says O'Callaghan.

"First thing in the morning, I start getting carbohydrates into me, they are a great energy source. The day usually starts with some fruit, porridge, pancakes or an omelette with three or four eggs in it. It can be very hard to face into eating all that first thing in the morning. I was never one for eating too much when I wake up, but it is vital.

"Lunch is heavily carb-orientated as well, with some pasta or rice in there, and the protein intake is usually maximised later in the evening. But to be honest, we usually try and eat more small meals than scoffing everything at one sitting. I'd definitely be a grazer," O'Callaghan admits.

The routine is slightly more relaxed on lighter training days, but after workouts, all the Munster players are handed a recovery 'shake' as they come off the paddock. The recuperation starts immediately.

"Everything is personally designed down to a T for all of us. When I finish a session, I am given my own specially made 'shake.' It is usually full of carbs again, but it is vital to get that into you as soon as you can to help your recovery from the session.

"We would have another meal after training and then maybe something small again in the evening. It can be tough to take sometimes, but it's what has to be done to play at the top level," he says.

FEROCITY

Now into his third season in the Munster camp, the training and conditioning plan is certainly having its effect. Back in 2011, the 6' 5'' Youghal native weighed in at 100kg. This week, he tops the scales at 108kg. In a game where the ferocity of the hits keeps increasing, a solid protective shell is vital.

But alongside a marked improvement in O'Callaghan's conditioning, he has impressed his coaches on the field with ever increasing game time the reward.

In his first season with the senior squad, he made his debut after barely a month against the Ospreys. Shortly afterwards, he made his Heineken Cup debut. He had hit the big time.

"I'll never forget my first game in the Pro12. It was against the Ospreys and I was told I was starting, it wasn't even off the bench. I tried to play it down and keep it cool, but it was very exciting for me and the family. All I wanted to do was play my own game," says O'Callaghan.

"It was a shock to my parents (Mary and Declan) alright. They have always been there at the games all along, so they got very excited that I was starting. They even went to the U-20s World Cup when it was in Japan. Maybe it just an excuse to go somewhere nice, but it was great to have them there.

"After that, getting the chance to play in the Heineken Cup was special as well. Just the whole atmosphere leading up to the game and the buzz in the stadium was amazing.

Last season had its ups and downs for O'Callaghan, though. On the positive side, he signed a two-year extension to his Munster deal in January that will see him remain on with the province until at least the end of the 2015-16 season. On the flip side, a series of niggly knee injuries restricted his participation to just 12 starts.

But just as he thought his campaign was ending with a whimper, a late call-up to the Emerging Ireland squad for the Tiblisi Cup in Georgia gave him a huge boost.

"I got called in late on to play as a second-row in the Tiblisi Cup during the summer, so that was a major bonus for me. Tendonitis in my right knee caused me to miss most of the end of the season, but I really didn't feel like my campaign should have been over.

"Getting the chance to play a couple more games in the Irish shirt was brilliant. Tiblisi was an interesting challenge, there was a real dead heat during the games, which made playing tough, but it was a great trip.

"There was a good group of Munster lads out there: myself, Ian Keatley, Dave Foley, Ian Nagle and Johnny Ryan were all out, so it was a bit of a laugh as well."

Being equally comfortable playing in the back-row or second-row is a terrific string to O'Callaghan's bow, especially in a squad as competitive as Munster's. Having the ability to slot seamlessly into either position makes him an obvious candidate for a spot among the replacements, but he doesn't care where he is told to play, as long as game time comes.

"Back when I was with the Irish U-20s, I was always regarded as a lock, but for Munster I have mainly been a back-row. But, to be honest, I am not bothered where I play. Maybe the fact that the game is evolving so much and that the difference between the back and second-row is lessening is to my advantage. If that brings more time on the pitch, then that's great for me," he says.

Irish Independent

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