Thursday 5 December 2019

O'Gara raring to make big impact on Kidney

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

HE'S an hour and a half late and Ronan O'Gara is not happy.

It wasn't his fault and everyone knows it, but the perfectionist that drives him doesn't want to give the wrong impression, least of all to the media with whom his relationship is complicated. He knows perception is nine tenths of the law in these matters and doesn't want to be seen as a diva, swanning into the room as if he didn't realise the time.

"I'll ignore you (the media) but other people don't," he half jokes, wholly in earnest. "You're powerful beyond all recognition, that's the problem -- and I'm an hour and a half late!"

That's why he cannot get away from the out-half debate.

He would like to straight-bat questions on it, tell everyone that it's just paper talk but he knows it's more than that -- that the debate invades every facet of rugby discussion and seeps into the minds of those making the ultimate decision.


In O'Gara's head he is the best. Other people see it differently and everybody loves a debate about the No 10 jersey.

However, Jonny Sexton finished the season with another Heineken Cup medal and the Ireland jersey on his back -- the star of Irish rugby's good news stories, flawless against England and even better against Northampton in the European finale after his famous speech.

While he may not be first choice at the outset, O'Gara is ready to make his mark.

"What sport has told me is that it's very rare I don't have an impact in games and I've got to be ready for that," he says. "There will hopefully come a time in the World Cup that I'm needed, whether it is to start games or come on and win games. It's all to play for. It just makes the debate more appealing to everyone at this stage.

"The logic is that both of us are going to have roles, you can't be pig-headed about it and say you want to start and finish every game, that's not realistic. The competition will bring out the best in the two of us and let's see what happens.

"The jersey is up for grabs, there are two of us fighting for it. It's interesting; a week is a long time in sport, there are going to be different opinions from different people. I'll make sure I'm in good condition physically and mentally to make an impact."

The rivalry between Sexton and O'Gara is one of the most fascinating in Irish sport. Ever since the younger man stood over his rival in the aftermath of Leinster's first try in the Croke Park Heineken Cup semi-final, mouth wide open, roaring at O'Gara, there is a lingering sense that the two don't get on particularly well.

The duo don't admit any disputes, but they certainly aren't close.

"I don't know him as well as I knew David Humphreys at this stage but what I do know of him, he seems really keen to succeed and that's what you have to admire," says O'Gara.

"He's competitive as well. I don't think there's any tension there. I think there is big determination there and a willingness to win.

"You can talk a lot but your CV or actions or performances speak for themselves. That's when it stops, people can see that you've done it but there can always be agendas from different people.

"But there comes a time when people know what people can do and I'd like to think that I have done it and I can do it.

"Who is to say that I can do it the next time? That is the challenge for me. I don't want to watch games, it has happened a few times. It's rare that I haven't got an opportunity and that is down to perseverance."

This September will be O'Gara's third World Cup and while he doesn't quite rule out playing in England in 2015 -- "I'll be 38, Diego Dominguez was still going for Italy at 38," he muses -- this one is likely to be his last.

In 2003 he won the jersey from Humphreys, while four years ago he was the undisputed top man in an unmitigated disaster. But from a personal perspective, this time will be different.


O'Gara is a family man now and he admits that almost two months could be a long time to be away from his young twins.

"That is the major thing. That is something I won't be able to comment on until I go out there, because I don't intend on bringing my family," he says.

"That will be a massive decision because I have been out to New Zealand and your mood is dependent on performances and in the past we haven't had much joy down there, with the Lions or with Ireland, so it is bloody tough and lonely at night time.

"People don't see that side of the sport, I think there is mental torture on those tours and it can scar you.

"There is so much to look forward to, yet four years ago my expectations were probably higher because I was one of the key men and this time I don't know what role I have to play yet."

What is certain is that he will do everything in his power to influence the mind of Declan Kidney in order to have a say. Few would bet against him doing so.

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