Saturday 16 December 2017

Training is insanely competitive, everyone wants to make an impact

Player Diary: Jack O’Donoghue

Ian Keatley’s drop-goal gave Munster the win last weekend. Jack O’Donoghue was stuck at the bottom of a ruck so didn’t get to see the winning kick
Ian Keatley’s drop-goal gave Munster the win last weekend. Jack O’Donoghue was stuck at the bottom of a ruck so didn’t get to see the winning kick

Jack O’Donoghue

It was mentioned last week that we face eight really tough games on consecutive weekends, so to start that run with a late drop-goal win over Glasgow Warriors is really pleasing. But the tests keep on rolling, with a huge game against Leicester tomorrow as the Champions Cup takes centre stage.

Go back to this time last year, we had a tough time of it when we lost twice to Leicester. We're playing well at the moment, but Tigers are in a great run of form too. As a whole, English rugby is flying, so having their international lads back will be a big boost for them.

Physically, they are an imposing side; our scrum and maul will really be tested, but those are the battles that we need to win to give our backs some quality go-forward ball.

It looks like it will be close to a sell out at Thomond Park tomorrow and that's what we live off in these games. When our supporters are behind us, it is an awesome feeling and give us such a lift.

One of the real positives for us now is the form of players right across the squad. You could look at any line in the pitch and there is a range of players putting their hand up.


The back three must be a nightmare to pick; as I know well myself the back-row has huge competition; and the second-row now has Donnacha Ryan, Billy Holland, Dave Foley, Jean Kleyn, Darren O'Shea and John Madigan all fighting it out.

Even Conor Murray is being challenged big time by Duncan Williams this season, such is Duncan's form in the last couple of months.

Lads are just bursting to get out on the pitch and are so keen to pull on the jersey. Training has been insanely competitive; everyone wants to make an impact and we all know how tough it is going to be to get into the 23.

I'm sure it hasn't been easy on the coaches, but it's definitely the way we'd want it to be. We need good depth in our squad as a whole to be winning trophies. I don't think anyone has their name guaranteed on the jersey.

Certainly, that win in Scotstoun added to that competition. It was a strange game: we defended for a hell of a lot; we made 226 tackles as a team, which was really high. We had a good start, we exited well, we put in good grubbers behind them and pinned them back well in the corners.

After an early penalty and Andrew Conway's try put us 10-0 up, we had a small lapse in discipline but they missed a penalty. We cleared the ball, but then immediately conceded another penalty.

Having that second kick at the posts straight away was annoying and it gave them the start. Frustratingly, we then conceded another penalty at the other end and handed them an easy exit, so around that time we had given them some easy points and vital yardage.

It was a sloppy period for us. We gave up seven penalties in total and they all came in the first half. Around that time we coughed up four of them in a row and it was a poor way to follow such a good start to the game.

But what was really good was the way we finished the game. Having conceded a try so late, we came back well, stuck to our game-plan, and gained territory.

Even with four minutes to go there was no panic. Rory Scannell kicked a lovely grubber and our backs came flying through. They couldn't gain much yardage on the clearance kick and we had a great attacking platform in their 22, which eventually led to us scoring the drop-goal.

It was a good way to finish, a great feeling for all of us, but I'm sure it was even better for Ian Keatley to slot the kick. I was stuck at the bottom of the ruck so I didn't see it, but watching it back he made it look easy, his technique was that good.

We just had to close out the game after that and that's something we've become pretty good at.

Even though he didn't score the try, Darren Sweetman was the talk of the town again after his one-handed catch. We were slagging him that he was more like Odel Beckham of the New York Giants than Darren Sweetnam from Cork; the skills come naturally to him.

He reckoned it just stuck to his hand, but it was sweet to catch the ball dropping behind his head with one hand. Then to top it off he beat the defender straight away.

It's great for us, he's giving us great go-forward ball, but maybe we'll have to watch out for NFL scouts now!

On the personal front it was such an incredible honour to win my first Ireland cap in the last few weeks. Getting the email call up to the squad was great, but joining up with the lads on the back of their win in Chicago was unreal.

The vibe around the place was electric, and then to be selected to start against Canada was what you dream of. The nerves at the start of that game were probably the worst I've ever had, but I was so happy to make that step up.

Every young fella dreams of playing for Ireland growing up and I've been grateful to get a taste of that now. Now the test for me is to try and get back into the camp again for the Six Nations.

But it all comes back to your province: playing well as an individual only really comes when the team is going well as a unit, so my aim is to win as often as possible this season with Munster.

But even getting into our team will be tough. There are four or five capped back-rows here now and everyone will want their turn. So starting tomorrow again, let's keep the home fires burning for now and we'll see what happens after that.

Irish Independent

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