When you star in a Blackrock College side that wins the Leinster Schools Senior Cup and become a stand-out selection in Ireland teams at underage levels, a glittering rugby career is virtually assured.
Conor Oliver was just that player as he scored the first try in Blackrock’s 22-17 victory over Clongowes in the 2014 schools final and caught the attention of national selectors in three successive age grades.
Surprisingly, Leinster didn’t offer him a place in their academy but he had no hesitation in accepting a similar offer from Munster. He is now midway through his second year at which stage he has played seven games for the senior side including the full 80 minutes in the memorable victory over the Maori All Blacks in front of a full house Thomond Park in November.
Quick to the breakdown and abrasive in collisions, he is an out-and-out openside flanker who contributes handsomely to his team’s cause.
Munster are blessed with a plethora of back-row talent so it’s not easy for Oliver to break through on the biggest days. However, the 21-year-old, ideally built for the job at 15 stone and 6 feet, is not complaining.
He played a major part in the win over Edinburgh last weekend and is poised to start again against the Newport Gwent Dragons at Musgrave Park on Friday night.
“There is a massive opportunity with the numbers that Munster put into the Irish camps,” he reckons.
“The younger guys and the guys on the fringes of the team can put their hands up while they are away. It is great to be winning. It gives the players confidence when they come in.
“The depth in the squad is one of the reasons we are where we are. It is great when we can slot in and out and there is no big issue.”
Patience is a virtue Oliver has been using to his advantage.
“I am definitely ahead of the goals I set for myself at the start of the season,” he says.
“I didn’t think I would be starting or that I would be in a seven jersey this season. “It has been a great year and I am enjoying every moment of it. I am happy with the way I have gone.
“The journey I have been on has been great and I’m grateful for the opportunities I have had. I will hopefully keep pushing on and get some more games.”
It must have been a little intimidating for a teenage Dub to leave the comforts of the capital and move to a new and strange scenario in Limerick and train with a group of outstanding back-row forwards with a bundle of Irish caps in their lockers.
“Yes, especially last year when I came into the academy and I had watched these guys on TV and stuff, then you are training with them and playing with them,” he acknowledges.
“It is amazing for me to learn from them. All across the back row, there are internationals. They are a great help to the younger guys in terms of tips and stuff. Even watching them you can learn a lot.
“I used to think about how tough it was going to be to get matches but then I got a start last week and injuries are also going to happen. So you have to be ready to pounce on your opportunity and I am just relishing the chance to play and train with the quality we have in the back row. It is amazing.” Oliver fully appreciates that he must take every opportunity with Friday’s game against the Dragons his next opportunity to put his hand up.
“Losing players is a big hit for some of the teams but the strength in depth we have is great at the moment,” he stresses. “And yet we won’t take anything for granted this week. We squeezed by over there earlier this season. They had a maul in the corner and they knocked it on so we only just got out of there with a win.”
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