Friday 17 November 2017

'I've turned a corner and I'm ready to roll again this season'

The big interview: Tommy O'Donnell - after fighting way back from injury Tipp native has eyes fixed on silverware and Ireland call-up

Munster's Tommy O'Donnell, Paul O'Connell and Paddy Butler during squad training ahead of their side's Celtic League 2013/14, Round 21, match against Edinburgh on Saturday. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Munster's Tommy O'Donnell, Paul O'Connell and Paddy Butler during squad training ahead of their side's Celtic League 2013/14, Round 21, match against Edinburgh on Saturday. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Munster's Tommy O'Donnell in action at lineout practice at training ahead of tomrrow’s Pro12 clash against Ulster Diarmuid Greene/SPORTSFILE

Declan Rooney

Munster need to beat Ulster tomorrow to have any chance of claiming a home semi-final in the Pro12, but back-row Tommy O'Donnell says they are intent on giving themselves every opportunity to succeed.

As well turning over an Ulster side who haven't conceded four tries since March last year, Rob Penney's side need Zebre to pull off another giant killing against Glasgow in the Scottish city.

The percentages say that Munster will have to be satisfied with an away trip to Scotstoun in the last four, but whatever happens O'Donnell is determined to finish the season on a high.

"Yeah, it's going to be tough for us now. We'll need the win and we'll need things to go our way in the other game. It's an interesting one though. For a lot of (Ulster and Munster) lads it's basically for Irish teams and places on tours.

"So it should be an interesting game and especially that we still have a chance of getting that home semi-final which would be very important for us.

"We were delighted how it went against Edinburgh. It was great to get back on the horse after the week before and there's still a trophy to be won this year and it's great to win in such fashion as well.

"It was a good win, but the great thing about it is we still could be better. So you wouldn't be heading into this week totally full of yourself. There's a lot of things that still can be improved, there's still stuff to work on," said O'Donnell who signed a two-year extension to his current Munster deal during the season.

But even if Munster can go on an unbeaten run until the end of May and win the Pro12, O'Donnell is not ready to head to the travel agents just yet. After sitting out most of the first half of the season because of a knee injury, and playing a smaller role than expected for Ireland in the Six Nations, he is keen to make the international squad for Argentina.

Coincidentally, on another day his likely opponent tomorrow, Chris Henry, is also a rival for the Ireland No 7 shirt. O'Donnell rates the Ulster flanker very highly.

"Yeah, he's a tough cookie at seven. He's very good at getting and messing up the ball so he's going to be tough to deal with as well. But they have some very strong ball carriers all across the park. They've got some great players and the one thing that really stood out was their defence really in Thomond Park, how good they are and how committed they are to it.

TOUGH

"They're a quality side and they've got a lot of good players at the moment. It's going to be a tough game, you're going to have to prepare for this game like it's a Rabo semi-final.

"You're taking on one of the top four teams and you're taking on one of your Irish counterparts. It's going to be a really tough game and you have to prepare yourself mentally and physically," said the 26-year-old Tipperary native.

Following on from last season when O'Donnell was named Munster's Player of the Year, 15 appearances to date is not what he wanted.

In just his second appearance of the campaign he sustained a hyper-extension of his knee injury against Zebre, which kept him on the sidelines until he came off the bench to face Perpignan in December. Making it back in time to play in Europe was a huge target for him, he says.

"The clock that was in my head at that stage was the Heineken Cup. I needed it and I wasn't registered at that stage for the Heineken Cup, but I knew if I could get back and get a couple of games under my belt I could get registered again. So that was my time, that was my focus and that's what I was going hard towards.

"I feel like I came back very well from the injury and I was happy and things were working out well until the Six Nations, but I wasn't selected, so I just kept plugging away.

"It hasn't gone too bad, I probably haven't been playing at last year's form, but I feel I've turned the corner again this week after last week's performance against Edinburgh. I'm back on track and ready to roll again this season. There's possibly another three weeks and hopefully tours after that, so there's plenty of time left."

The win over Toulouse at Thomond Park was a real highlight of the season, but after playing a starring role that day, O'Donnell impressed from the bench against Toulon in the Heineken Cup semi-final.

While disappointed to miss out on a bigger role against the defending champions, O'Donnell says he was happy to carry out an important job as an impact player. But he also concedes that missing out has given him the determination to get some solid rewards for the season.

"We knew we were going to need an impact off the bench against Toulon, so once I found out I wasn't starting, I was happy to do that.

"You can't dwell on it too much so you keep it in the bank so you use that energy. So I really tried when I came on against Toulon to make an impact as much as I could. It went okay for me, but at the end of the day we still lost.

"We've got something to prove against Glasgow as well. The four teams that are left in it are teams that can say they deserve it this year. Glasgow have been building a great squad, Ulster have been in and around there the last couple of years.

"Leinster obviously have the reputation of winning but we're there, we've been building our squad, we've been building our reputation.

"We feel we deserve silverware just as much as any of them. We feel we need silverware to reward ourselves at the end of the season because at the end of the season your four weeks of holidays are gone and it's a new season.

"You forget about all your accomplishments, all the games you've won. It's a blank slate again, you have to start over in week one again."

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