Wednesday 23 October 2019

Tomás O'Leary: 'Preparation means stars are beginning to align for Ireland's bid'

 

Munster make their mark on the World: Andew Conway touches down for Ireland against Scotland. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Munster make their mark on the World: Andew Conway touches down for Ireland against Scotland. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Tomás O'Leary

You couldn't help but feel, as Ireland took Scotland apart last Sunday morning, that the stars were really aligning for Joe Schmidt and Ireland after several years of planning.

There is so much you can control but there are some things outside of your influence which you need to go your way as well.

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Playing Scotland first was a big help. I know they will talk up the opposition for the remaining games but that was always going to be the toughest test and getting it out of the way first allows Ireland to control the pool and everything they do from here.

Compare that to four years ago when the big pool game came at the end against France. Yes, we won it, but look at the toll it took and then there was just a week to get ready for the quarter-final against Argentina.

It's different this time. Those with niggles can be rested, others can be fine-tuned and be ready if needed for what seems an inevitable quarter-final showdown with South Africa.

Smart

Tomás O'Leary. Photo: Sportsfile
Tomás O'Leary. Photo: Sportsfile

The decision to tour Japan two years ago by Ireland was very smart.

I know a lot of lads were away with the Lions but it gave the coaching team and all the back-up staff a chance to acclimatise, and some of the young lads who made that trip are back as part of the World Cup squad.

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That sort of experience in a strange environment can give you an edge. It might only make a one per cent difference in the overall scheme of things - but that could be enough to get you across the line.

It's clear that the World Cup has been the target all along. Joe Schmidt has delivered some magnificent moments but this is the one he wants. The experimenting during the Six Nations, not always by choice it must be said, and the indifferent performances in the warm-up games all served to be ideal preparation.

The warm-up games weren't perfect but they did serve to reduce expectation and that wasn't a bad thing, either.

The next three matches can now be used to get the prep absolutely perfect for the Springboks.

Uruguay's win over Fiji showed you can't take your eye off anything in a World Cup but Ireland know Japan will be gunning for them tomorrow. They are a proud nation, great hosts, and they will want to give a big performance in front of their own crowd.

That said, you'd imagine the target for them would be a crack at Scotland if they hope to qualify but Schmidt will have it drilled into his players that they need to show up and perform.

The incentive now for every player is to be in the side when they play South Africa. Everyone will want to be part of that side as they try to make history. There are probably around ten players nailed on for the starting side but it's the battle for the other four or five spots which will drive the standard in the next few weeks.

All in all, it leaves Ireland in a great place for the next few weeks. I'm sure the Irish supporters who have made the trip are really enjoying it.

It's great to see a dozen Munster players out there. It shows the amount of work that has gone in over the past few years. There were only five Munster players in the 2015 squad when it was announced.

Of course, the Munster guys at home will now need to deliver while the World Cup is going on.

I'm sure Johann van Graan has pointed out that the four or five points they may pick up against Dragons tomorrow will carry the same value as a win against Leinster in the Aviva or any of the other big guns.

The guys at home can make the end of the season that bit easier while, at the same time, making a strong case themselves for inclusion when the big games come around and the 12 are back from Japan.

There is a lot of good talent coming through and it's great to see. You always look at your own position, of course, and Munster are well served at scrum-half heading into this campaign.

To be honest, I was surprised when they signed Nick McCarthy. Now, I hope he turns out like other Leinster players such as Felix Jones or Andrew Conway who have made the switch.

But I would have thought with the likes of Craig Casey and Jack Stafford coming through from the Academy to provide back-up to Conor Murray and former All Black Alby Mathewson, along with Neil Cronin as well, that Munster are well served in this department and might look to augment the squad elsewhere.

It's important that Munster give ample game-time to the young lads they are producing if they are to push on and make the grade, but it promises to be an exciting season and what better way to get it up and running than Ireland doing superbly in Japan.

Junior football championship is my World Cup these days

It's over two years now since I retired from rugby but playing some hurling and Gaelic football with Erin's Own has certainly helped the transition.

I'll be 36 next month and while there will be one eye on Japan, my main attention will be on a junior football championship game against Ballinascarthy next weekend.

We have already won the East Cork title and want to go a bit further. I play in the full-forward line and leave it to the young lads to do the running out the field!

It was always my intention to come back and play with Erin's Own when I was finished with professional rugby. It's hard to believe that it's nearly two decades ago that I lined out as a 16-year old - we had Brian Corcoran in our team - in the county senior hurling final against Newtownshandrum.

It's great to continue being part of a dressing-room and great, too, to be able to get out there and burn off a bit of steam.

It's a busy time for us as a family. Julie and I had our second child a few weeks ago when Alfie came into our lives, a young brother for Jamie, who is four.

I started a new job last week as well as business development manager for the Munster region for Stelfox, an IT recruitment company with offices in Dublin, Cork and Galway.

Julie and I also have our custom watch design business - www.toldandco.com - so between all these things it's fairly full on.

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