You are viewing the content for Wednesday 12 September 2012

Donncha ‘in a lovely spot’ and geared to go

Three weeks into the new campaign and Munster are slowly resuming a semblance of proper order.

Ronan O’Gara, Keith Earls and Conor Murray are set to make their seasonal debuts at some stage during the RaboDirect Pro12 derby against Ulster on Friday at Ravenhill, having been made available by the IRFU under its player welfare protocols.

Donnacha Ryan, Peter O’Mahony and Simon Zebo will be the next internationals to resume duty, most likely in round four, when Munster host the Newport Gwent Dragons at Thomond Park on September 22. And flanker Niall Ronan is not far away either, his rehab from knee surgery in January complete to the extent that he will also see action in Ulster this Friday, though likely in the afternoon’s A game at Belfast Harlequins’ Deramore Park.

And then there is Donncha O’Callaghan, set to return to duty in Belfast after a weekend on the maternity ward as wife Jenny gave birth to their second child, another daughter, named Anna.

Born in the early hours of Saturday morning, O’Callaghan was given leave to withdraw from last Friday night’s 19-6 win over Benetton Treviso at Thomond Park, further punctuating his staccato start to the season.

Kept out of the pre-season games on IRFU orders but permitted back for the first game of the season at Edinburgh, the 33-year-old made an immediate impact on Rob Penney’s new gameplan for his province, thundering around Murrayfield as the Munster pack dominated their opposition to help secure an opening-day victory.

Same old Donncha would be the natural reaction to such a statement but there is something different this time around. Incoming head coach Penney is moulding a new Munster and O’Callaghan is a willing participant.

"Every session is a new challenge and something you want to impress in," O’Callaghan said.

"I think I thrive in that kind of environment, where you have to bring it all every day. So it suits me."

With Penney and backs coach Simon Mannix placing a greater emphasis on forwards and backs playing with width as well as traditional Munster pick and drive rugby, O’Callaghan has been eager to get his hands on the ball more, but also using more discretion about when to dive into a ruck.

"There’s been a lot put down to craft and stuff like that. It’s different, I suppose, at the moment. Maybe due to frustration and things like that I was running around like a blue-arsed fly looking to get on the ball whereas I think doing a little bit more work and watching the tapes and knowing my place really well has led to me being in good positions more so than just running around headless, looking for the ball. Maybe now I mightn’t be involved in two plays but when you get your chance on the third you’ll be up to speed.

"So (Edinburgh) was one game and that’s all it is. I’ve set myself two really clear goals for the year and that’s it. That’s all I want, I’m keeping them to myself but it’s a massive year for me and I really want to throw it down.

"It’s mad and I’ll probably tell them at the end of the year and they’re so simple that you’d probably laugh but it’s got me geared right and got my head right and I’m in a lovely spot."

O’Callaghan’s happy place has also been enhanced by the benefits of a more tailored pre-season strength and conditioning programming set by coaches Bryce Cavanagh and Aidan O’Connell.

"Yeah, I’d have to put it down to the fitness staff. Bryce, Aidan, they’ve done an unbelievable job. Maybe before, we’d done really hard pre-seasons and tough stuff but this time it’s all geared towards me and what will get me flying fit. There’d be times in other years when we’d just do stuff en bloc but that hasn’t been the case this year. They’re looking at, you know, ‘these are Donncha’s strengths, maybe he’s fit in endurance stuff so we need to hit him anaerobically’ and I’ve got massive gains from that and I have to put it down to the staff. Again, it’s the environment at the moment, it’s great. It’s a competitive environment, training, and even small things like fitness drills at the end, you want to do well and as you could see I was the only back in with the forwards... well, the other way round, the only forward in with the backs.

"That’s half the problem with the forwards isn’t it! I’m probably meant to be scrummaging now."

Some things never change, after all but aside from the jokes, O’Callaghan is at pains to point out he is and always has been an eager student.

"I’ve never shied away from evolving and wanting to learn stuff. I’ve always wanted a bit more of a role in that. The grafting stuff is grand and needs to be done but it’s not a bit enjoyable.

"When you play games and you touch the ball every day of the week it brings you back to why you played rugby and why you enjoy it so much. And to be fair, the level of coaching at the moment with Simon and Rob is incredible. You come in every day and learn something and if you go away and put it into practice it comes off for you. That’s all you want as a player and we’ve been given a massive boost from such coaches."