There are no soft caps to be won in Irish and Munster rugby these days, all the more so if you ply your trade in the back row of the scrum. Few appreciate that better than Waterford’s Jack O’Donoghue, one of the most talented and committed players in the country.
As he approaches his 24th birthday in January, O’Donoghue has secured two Irish caps, against Canada and Japan, while he has made 65 appearances for Munster.
All of which seems paltry given the series of outstanding performances he has produced in his three seasons so far with the province and the high esteem in which he is widely held.
So it would be hard to blame him if he feared more of the same over the coming weeks and months, given the stature of the opposition for places once again for province and country. O’Donoghue has impressed in Munster’s wins over Treviso and Cheetahs when he teamed up with Tommy O’Donnell and Sean O’Connor to form a powerful back-row.
However, with Lions Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander set to return in the next few weeks and a highly rated South African Chris Cloete due to arrive on a three-year contract by the end of October, the battle for a starting berth will grow more intense.
“That’s the challenge, isn’t it?” he states in forthright fashion. “That’s nothing new to me, ever since I came in, there has never been any lapse. That creates a good environment and good competition. When people get complacent, performances might slacken. In Munster, we have always driven good standards on and off the pitch. You have your friendships and go for coffees after training but it’s very competitive on the pitch.”
Underlining the great spirit in the camp as O’Donoghue sees it, he stresses: “There is still a lot of coaching between players and that’s something that will have to step up with the change in coaching staff. It’s going to have to be very much player driven and that’s where the older lads who have been away with the Lions and Ireland are going to have to step up.”
He added: “Even for younger lads and I’m classing myself among them, it’s a chance for me to step up and become a leader. I don’t see it as an onus on my shoulders even if I have played in some big games but you want to be starting in the European Cup and interpro games. We have a block of two tough away games against Ospreys and Glasgow, then Cardiff, and then we’re into the interpros and Europe. So you want to be putting your best foot forward for the coaches and giving them a headache because you have the luxury of extra game time under your belt. Peter and CJ are only returning over the next few weeks and you want to be showing Rassie and Jacques and the boys what you can do, this is what I’m bringing this season and kicking on.”
As if to underline his growing maturity, O’Donoghue didn’t shirk away from the question of the coaching upheaval looming in the second part of the season.
“We wondered how the transition was going to go”, he acknowledged. “At the moment, it’s no different to last year. Our training week to week, hasn’t changed but as I said, it’s going to be very player driven.
“The lads came in last season and did a wonderful job and now we want to give them a good send-off. We want to be in the best possible position in the league table and in Europe and it’s going to be exciting to see a new coach come in and see what styles they’re going to bring and see how they can better our game plan at the moment. These things happen and you can’t hold a grudge. Rassie has goals and ambitions to coach South Africa and that’s fair enough, just like us, we have ambitions to play for Ireland and we do everything in our power to do that. You might lose a few friends along the way but if you achieved that goal, it’s happy days.”
Waterford’s All-Ireland hurling final defeat seems to be the only negative in Jack O’Donoghue’s active young life at the minute.
“It was very disappointing, you saw that picture at the end of the game of Derek McGrath and Dan Shanahan,” he said. “I’d be friendly with a few lads on the team and it was devastating. I played with Stephen O’Keeffe and the two O’Mahonys live virtually next door to me in Woodstown. I know the effort they put in as amateurs. You have to admire it”.
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