Tommy O’Donnell under starter’s orders

Tommy O’Donnell under starter’s orders

It was four summers ago that Tommy O’Donnell feared the worst for his playing career, never mind his future at Test level.

A dislocated hip, sustained in a freak accident during the dying minutes of Ireland’s opening World Cup warm-up game in Cardiff against Wales, threatened to spell the end of the road for the Munster flanker but the 32-year-old never lost hope of returning to the heights with the national team.

Now, four years later, O’Donnell finds himself back at square one, preparing to give his all in another shot at making Joe Schmidt’s World Cup squad. The Tipperary man’s application for the cause has not gone unnoticed, with scrum coach Greg Feek singing O’Donnell’s praises yesterday at Carton House and the players’ presence in front of the media suggests he could be in line for a first cap since the 2016 Six Nations, when Ireland face Italy in Dublin this Saturday.

“Tommy as an athlete, he has got some X factor,” Feek said of O’Donnell. “He also brings a bit of enthusiasm and he asks a lot of good questions. It has been refreshing having him in.

“That injury I think it took him quite a long time to come right and it is almost like he has timed it right in terms of that.

“Really it is just up to him now. I can’t speak highly enough about what he has been through to get to this point and obviously training and in the gym and things like that, it has been great.”

Having missed the 2015 World Cup during a five-month spell on the sidelines, O’Donnell has also been injured for prolonged spells since, not least this season when a shoulder injury in January against Exeter Chiefs required surgery on his AC joint ended his season.

With this injury, you had to wait for the screws (to come out) and the bones to heal. It felt good, it felt like I could take contact but you had to wait for the bone to fully remodel. Like, you don’t want to come back too early and cause any extra damage.

“I was very hopeful to play the last couple of games with Munster. I was available for selection but I just hadn’t got any games under the belt since January, so selection didn’t go my way,” O’Donnell said.

“I was hoping to get the call off Joe and eventually it did come my way. Once you get into this environment and pre-season happens, you’re just trying to show up at every training session and put as good a marker down as you can do.

“As soon as I got the phone call, that was my attitude heading into the camp.

“My whole thinking was get back for that (PRO14) semi-final because of the way Munster were going, possibly having an involvement in a final as well and then all you have to get into World Cup camp, show a bit of form, show a bit of fitness, and you never know how it will go from there.

That was my thought process for the last World Cup as well. Once you get into World Cup camp, there will be presets but you’re just trying to change mindsets. You’re trying to show coaches this is what I can do.

This is the level I can take it to, this is the level I can reach with my skill, knowledge of the game plan and stuff, and just show what you can do really.“

Needless to say, making the final 31-man squad for Japan would be a career highlight for O’Donnell but the Munster back-rower sees that as just a starting point.

‘It would (a highlight) but then there would be so much more.

“It’s not just about making the squad and getting on the plane because of the quality of this squad and the quality of the players and there’s players in here with massive ambitions so there’s a lot more to achieve so if I manage to achieve and get on the plane that it wouldn’t stop there. There would much more to achieve.”

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