Wednesday 11 December 2019

The Big Interview: Tomas O'Leary - Scrum-half in no rush to let time tick away on his dream job

Cork No 9 delighted to be back in red and able to play his part while still enjoying the game

While living in London Tomas O’Leary laid the foundation for the watch brand he set up in November. Photo: Sportsfile
While living in London Tomas O’Leary laid the foundation for the watch brand he set up in November. Photo: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Tomás O'Leary may have won two European Cups with Munster but he still relishes the chance to fight for his place in the team even though he knows Conor Murray is No 1.

O'Leary was once the starting scrum-half too - he took over from Peter Stringer prior to Murray's emergence. But when the opportunity came along to spend some time in London he couldn't resist.

It was a different experience going from a side who had won it all to London Irish, one that struggled to get the results. But O'Leary made the most of his time in England, and his watch business, Told & Co, was set up as a result of his stay.

However, even though the Corkonian enjoyed his time across the pond, he longed to wear the red jersey again. His wife is a Cork woman as well. And he put the wheels in motion on a move back to Munster that came to fruition before the start of 2015-'16.

He now finds himself in a four-horse race to wear the No 9 jersey on a weekly basis. But the 32-year-old recognises that himself, Duncan Williams and Cathal Sheridan must prove themselves before they can challenge Ireland international Murray.

"It's a necessary part of being successful, you can't be over-reliant on any one player throughout the season to maintain his form, and to maintain his fitness.

"It's just part of playing rugby, and it's part of being a team and a squad. Some days you will get picked, some days you won't. Some days it might be better to pick a different individual or you might need a rest.

"Modern rugby, particularly in the last four or five years, it has become more of a 23-man game. It's certainly not overwhelming, it's just part and parcel of professional rugby.

"I just came back to try and bring as much experience and bring my rugby ability to Munster Rugby and to the squad, and to try and push Conor as much as I can, and get that No 9 jersey," O'Leary says.

"Obviously he is way ahead at the moment and it is up to the rest of us, to try and raise our levels to get to Conor.

"But I came back to enjoy myself and to play with Munster, I missed playing with them. I missed representing the red jersey and it's a massive privilege to do so. I am just enjoying that at the moment and trying to play the best I can."


O'Leary has amassed 139 appearances and scored ten tries for Munster since his debut in the 2005-'06 season.

The former CBC student has 24 caps for his country and was on the famous Grand Slam-winning side in 2009.

He played 47 times for London Irish in his three-season stint with the club and he loved his time in the Aviva Premiership, even if his side were struggling in the lower places of the league.

"As a squad there were a lot of changes from year to year with London Irish, we finished in the bottom of the table. We were second and third last for the three years I was there.

"You look at the London Irish squad, they are bottom at the moment too. So in terms of what we achieved as a squad it was disappointing. But from my point of view, my form was good and I certainly enjoyed my rugby.

"I was very happy, and really enjoyed the whole experience. I definitely have no regrets about going to England, I really enjoyed it and I thought I did well over there."

While in London, O'Leary laid the foundation for the watch brand that he set up in November. With that, and the recruitment firm he has shares in, he is definitely ready for life after the game.

"Told & Co is a London-based brand, something that I got into when I was away. I always had a passion for watches and started working with a Danish designer when I was in London and set up my brand.

"That has gone really well around Christmas and into the New Year so that is really exciting. I have got a share in a recruitment company as well, Redzone Recruitment, when I was based out of London.

"When I was in London I got the chance to branch out and explore some business opportunities and make the most of that too. That was certainly a big bonus in working and living over in London.

"The watches are something I am really passionate about and I enjoy. Whether it is getting involved in social media or keeping track of order, or working on the website, it's something that I enjoy.

"After a tough day training it's great to get into something else, something you enjoy. Hopefully that will set me up for life after rugby. I have been fortunate enough to play rugby with Munster, Ireland and London Irish.

"I have enjoyed my time as a professional rugby player and hopefully afterwards I can move into something that I am really passionate about too."

But there's still plenty of time to leave an even bigger imprint on the rugby landscape. And he is determined to get more game-time at Munster towards the business end of the season.

"Prior to the games against Zebre and Ospreys, I was happy with how it has gone. Up to the first few months I got quite a bit of game-time once I got back playing.

"But once Conor got back into the team for Europe it has been quite in terms of game-time. But I want to be positive and bring as much to the table as I can."

Who is your sportstar of the year?

Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.

Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.

Simply click here to register your vote

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: John Cooney on Ulster's European run and bouncing back from World Cup disappointment

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport