He has kicked a Grand Slam-winning drop goal and piloted Munster to a pair of memorable Heineken Cup successes. He has been to World Cups and on three Lions tours to Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
But ask Ronan O’Gara for his career highs and an off-Broadway Magners League game in Cork at the end of 2007 rates higher than almost anything else.
Why? Because it reminded him, at one of the lowest moments of his rugby career, that Cork people never forget their own.
As O’Gara was feted by up to 800 guests at Cork’s City Hall last night, those in attendance were given a rare insight into the fallibility of the Munster, Ireland, and Lions legend.
“People think, ‘this fella is mentally strong’, but I’m strong to a point and as human as the next fella,” O’Gara wrote in a souvenir booklet for the occasion. “When you get a hammering, you feel it like anyone else.”
O’Gara was referring to the pummelling his professional and personal reputation took during the 2007 Rugby World Cup, when French media published stories on O’Gara’s alleged off-field problems.
“I was heavily criticised, and rightly so, for my rugby displays, but I was also pilloried in public and in the media over off-field issues. Essentially I was a broken man going back to my province for the first time for a Magners League game against Edinburgh in November 2007.
“I can never forget the reaction of the Cork crowd at Musgrave Park that night, it is something that will always stay in my heart. Just a special, special show of support,” O’Gara reflected.
“I was very grateful, it really kickstarted my career again after my world crumbled at the World Cup. To come back to your own people and get that kind of reaction explained better than I ever could why I played my whole career in Munster.”
He hadn’t expected the support because he was too focused that night on just delivering a performance. “That, first and foremost, was all I could think of beforehand because my confidence was at rock bottom. I had to prove to myself that I could play rugby again.
“I will never forget that night. It was something simple but beautiful. People outside Cork query why Cork sportspeople are the way we are; well that’s my evidence for what we are talking about. That will never change.”
- The Irish Examiner has produced a special tribute booklet for the Munster and Ireland legend, packed with analysis and highlights from commentators such as Donal Lenihan, Simon Lewis, and Charlie Mulqueen. Download it for free here.
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