Having retired at the end of last season and taken up a coaching role with Racing Metro, O’Gara is loving life in France but was glad to be in familiar surroundings ahead of last night’s testimonial dinner in Cork City Hall.
Speaking with Pat Kenny on Newstalk, O’Gara was in reflective mood ahead of the event, and spoke glowingly of his career with Ireland and in the red of Munster.
“I think it’s easier for me to move on because I played for Munster for 16 years and I love the place. If you’re here, you have to be immersed in Munster rugby, but if you want to move on you have to get out of the country,” O’Gara said.
“I played for a great team with great supporters and great teammates and I don’t think you can ask for any more. It was a special dressing room with special players and at the time you don’t appreciate it, but when you leave it, by God you do. It’s changed my life for the better, without a doubt.”
Admitting that adapting to French was manageable, if challenging, O’Gara said his children were finding the adjustment a little harder, adding that daughter Molly even told him she wasn’t returning to France after the testimonial. “It’s tough, they’re in the yard and everyone is running around and I look at my two little losers in the corner and you’re saying, ‘Please play with somebody!’
“Sometimes people think I’ve a rock of a heart but no, you’d be walking out of that carpark going, ‘Oh God please help,’ but it’ll stand to them, I hope.”
O’Gara heaped praise on fellow Racing recruit Jonathan Sexton as well as Irish half-back Conor Murray, whom O’Gara said “had been consid-ered” by the coaches in Paris, but was urged to stay with Munster.
Attending anti-suicide campaigner Donal Walsh’s funeral in May made O’Gara appreciate how lucky he was to live his dream with Munster for 16 years and “cop himself on” that retiring was not a difficult decision. He also referenced the tragic passing of Galway hurler Niall Donohue on Wednesday.
On last night’s event, O’Gara said he was completely taken aback by the interest from the people of Cork and saw the celebration as an opportunity to thank them for their undivided support and loyalty during his career.
Joking that he was enjoying the comforts of home, &he added: “The memories for me are the dressing room. People outside the circle probably find that hard to understand but there was such craic, camaraderie, enjoyment… we were like a team of brothers.”
- The Irish Examiner has produced a special tribute booklet for the Munster and Ireland rugby legend, packed with analysis and highlights from commentators such as Donal Lenihan, Simon Lewis, and Charlie Mulqueen. Download it for free here