Donncha O’Callaghan tells Colm Kinsella how he will fight ‘claw and hammer’ for his Munster place
“Being dropped felt like somebody had put their hand down my throat and ripped my heart out. The rule at Munster is that you can be sour about it for a day if you want, but that’s it. . .
“When I got back to my car after training there were texts on my phone from Marcus Horan and Jerry Flannery, two of my closest friends in rugby. I still have the text from Jerry Flannery. It started with a quote. “The block of granite which was an obstacle in the pathway of the weak became a stepping stone in the pathway of the strong.” - Thomas Carlyle.
Donncha O’Callaghan vividly describes of what it felt like to be dropped for Munster’s final pool match in last season’s Heineken Cup at home to London Irish. For the first time in eight years, he found himself on the replacements’ bench as the province played an important game.
It’s funny how history has a habit of repeating itself. O’Callaghan’s description of not making the starting XV taken from his new autobiography, ‘Donncha O’Callaghan: Joking Apart’ could easily apply to how the 32-year-old second row is feeling these weeks.
O’Callaghan has also found himself dropped for the province’s opening two Heineken Cup fixtures.
Speaking at a signing for his new book at O’Mahony’s Bookshop in Limerick this week, the Lions star admitted to again feeling “massively disappointed” at being left out of the starting team. But he has vowed to fight “claw and hammer” to regain a starting place.
O’Callaghan, who has played 185 times for the province, began the recent European ties with both Northampton and Castres on the sidelines, as coach Tony McGahan opted to start Donnacha Ryan in the second row. O’Callaghan revealed that pulling on the red jersey of Munster still means everything to him.
Donncha O’Callaghan said: “It has been massively disappointing. I would be lying. I take disappointments like that hugely.
“Playing for Munster means everything to me and I will fight claw and hammer to get my place back within the team.
“I never took my place for granted, It has always meant a huge amount to me. Any time I put on the jersey I know have to put in a massive performance. Hopefully, I will be afforded that opportunity again.
“It is hugely disappointing to be on bench, especially when you set high standards for yourself and you want to be in the team. You have to get a balance in it. You want the team to go well, but you want to be in the team when it is going well. “That is the thing about the Munster players. We really care.”
O’Callaghan may have lost his starting place in the side for the time being at least, but it hasn’t dented his razor sharp sense of humour. Asked about Ronan O’Gara’s drop goal heroics in the recent victories against the Saints and Castres and he grins: “Ronan seems to be getting better. He is loving these difficult situations and is insisting we all call him ‘Roy of the Rovers’ at the moment!”
A few second later, he grins: “I’m only messing, he’s not!, before paying tribute to Munster’s long-serving number ten.
“Ronan (O’Gara) has been incredible. That’s what you need your big players doing, but he seems to thrive on the pressure on those kind of occasions,” O’Callaghan added.
“People see him in action on a special day like Saturday, but he puts in a lot of hard work throughout the week, it doesn’t happen by accident.”
O’Callaghan has heard talk of Munster being a spent force in recent seasons, of the province’s bubble having burst. Howeverhe remains very optimistic about the team’s prospects.
“We have been hearing for, maybe, the last 10 years that the Munster bubble is burst. But we are lucky that there is a group of players who care about playing for the team and there are supporters who go beyond support,” O’Callaghan said.
“We are going ok. We haven’t hit our straps just yet. We need to play a bit better. We know that. There may be other teams who play for different reasons, but we are all about where we are from and playing well.”
So why has he written a book at this juncture of his career? O’Callaghan can’t help himself. He quips: “Hopefully people find the book is a good read. A few of the lads had written books before and I just wanted to give an honest account, one final enjoyable Munster book as opposed to the tripe that the other lads have put out!”