Thursday 16 August 2018

With my injury well behind me it's great to get off to a good start

Player Diary: Tommy O’Donnell

Munster’s Jean Kleyn wins possession in the line-out against the Cheetahs at Thomond Park last Saturday – the South Africans made it very hard to win clean ball. Photo: Sportsfile
Munster’s Jean Kleyn wins possession in the line-out against the Cheetahs at Thomond Park last Saturday – the South Africans made it very hard to win clean ball. Photo: Sportsfile

Having a couple of solid wins under our belt is a great way to start the season, but there is nothing like the prospect of taking on Ospreys in their back yard to focus minds this week.

Last weekend was an interesting game - it's a long time since we faced such an unknown prospect in a competitive game, but the fact that Rassie has such a history with Cheetahs we were able to tap into that and we were well prepared.

We knew Cheetahs liked to attack from everywhere on the field and that momentary lapses in concentration would have been heavily punished. We saw that in one or two incidents where they broke through, but overall we were very happy with how it went, we gave them a good welcome to Thomond Park.

It wasn't the most physical of games, but it was definitely entertaining. As soon as the ball went wide you knew they had the ability to cut you open with their fast steppers. They were always looking to cut back at the third and fourth defender inside. It was more of a mentally testing game rather than it having a physical toll on the body.

The real place they tested us was at the lineout. They were tricky; they had their work done and how they set up showed they knew where we liked to go.

Momentum It was pretty hard to win clean ball, but after a while we got into a groove and gained a bit of momentum there and we took the upper hand. It would have been tougher had we not been warned and prepared, but we were expecting it and it went okay. It's one of the areas that they will attack other teams with.

Despite the size of the win it's clear to see they are a good team, and I expect them to really test other teams - especially in Bloemfontein. The altitude and heat there will definitely give them that edge and they also have the quality of player to take a few wins on the road once they settle into the competition.

From a personal point of view, I was blessed to get the first try, but it was really down to Jack O'Donoghue being incredibly unselfish and he popped me a lovely ball to cruise in over the line. Honestly, I won't ever score an easier try, and I think I owe Jack a soft one after that gift.

Considering everything that happened since we lined out in last season's Guinness PRO12 final, I'm in a great place. It was an awful start to the summer losing to Scarlets, but picking up the injury that ended my final and my summer tour ambitions really capped it all. 

But my recovery went really well from day one and things began to pick up. I didn't head off to the sun or anything because my wife was pregnant and then we had the arrival of our son, Conan, to enjoy. Then we moved into the new house, and I was back for pre-season so it has been a hectic few months. 

Fatherhood is a real shock to the system, it's a massive difference, but it's brilliant too. You cannot be disappointed with injury or having a bad training session when you have someone like that to come home to.

I had been carrying a bit of a knock leading into the final, and when someone landed on me during the game I was in trouble again and did a bit more damage, and that ruled me out of the Ireland tour after being named in the squad.

Afterwards there was a few days of wondering what the plan would be, but after I went to see a specialist, we decided against the surgery route and it responded really well to treatment. I came round fairly quickly, it was just ten weeks overall, so I was ready for pre-season.

The way it worked out I was eased back into the new season. I was back full training at the end of July - up to that I was doing some fitness programmes and was held out of the contact work. By the time the lads came back, I had a full gym schedule done and I had plenty of straight-line running completed. It meant when I joined in full-contact training I was well able for it. In a way it was a nice pre-season, I wasn't hit with a massive contact load at the start, and I was able to build up a nice strength base as well.

After all the hard work I was ready to play the first pre-season game against Worcester. It went okay for me and I got a try before I went off, so I was happy with that. Since then I've been going well and I'm pretty satisfied with my game.

But mine and the rest of the lads' form will be put to the test tomorrow. This one with the Ospreys is always a tough game. Add in the fact that they are coming off a defeat last week to Glasgow so they will be looking for a home win to rebound this time.

They came away with a heavy loss at Scotstoun, but when they cut loose on that artificial surface, it can happen to anyone - we've tasted it once or twice.

When you consider the rivalry that's there between the two teams, we are certainly expecting a physical game. They'll hold on to the ball for long periods, so we are in for a fight to win it back.

Last year we went down three tries very quickly and had to fight really hard to win it. The plan is not to let that happen early on this time, but I'm sure we'll be tested severely at some stage.

We haven't seen Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb or Alun Wyn Jones yet this season, so they might be back for this one, but I'm sure Rassie and the coaches here will look to freshen things up again after two weeks.

We know that rotation is a big part of the modern game, so we have to be ready to step in and out of the team, but hopefully I'll get the nod again for this weekend.

Irish Independent

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