That’s the reality for Munster’s highly promising Jack O’Donoghue as he prepares for what he hopes to be his “breakthrough season” in the red jersey.
Coach Anthony Foley gave the 21 year-old Waterford man, a UL student now, his head in several significant Pro 12 games last year and he took his chance impressively.
This time around, he will be aiming for a starting place in the European Champions Cup and even with Tommy O’Donnell set to be a long term injury victim, that will not be easily achieved.
“You could say I got lucky with the breakthrough last season”, he reflects.
“I actually got a good few games under my belt [10 in all including try-scoring appearances against Cardiff Blues, Scarlets and Glasgow). Leading into this season, I think I can build on that, improve on some aspects of my game and hopefully secure a position in the team full-time.
“There is stuff at the breakdown and areas like that I need to work on, the nitty gritty, fine line stuff. I have played eight and six and not very much at seven. Obviously, with 16 games on the trot, there will be a lot of squad rotation so you have to adapt to wherever you are put. I am pretty comfortable in all three positions so we will see how we go.
“With the international players away, now is a great chance for the younger lads to step up. Pre-season is obviously great for that because you get the chance to prove yourself to the coach and show what you can do leading into PRO12, to try and secure that position.”
Obviously, it has to be a source of considerable confidence for O’Donoghue to be learning his craft under the guidance of one of the greatest number eight forwards ever produced by this country. He readily agrees he could hardly have a better mentor than Anthony Foley.
“You get great tips off Axel and the lads around you. CJ (Stander) had a great season last year and you can look at his games, the way he carries. For me, a young lad, it is great to have these players around just to talk to, sit down and have a coffee with, just rub shoulders with. You learn so much from them. For me it is great.”
O’Donoghue is a product of the Munster Youth system, having gone to school at De La Salle, an academy famed for its hurling exploits, so his early development as a rugby player came at Waterpark RFC. He received fantastic support from his parents, Neilus and Caroline, whom he says are his driving force. “Mum has been my taxi driver for years.” “Obviously my family and friends are proud of me.”
“I have great support back home. I am very grateful for that. Any time I go back home, or sometimes I would be in the stand, and I would hear ‘Up the Deise’ or something like that. It is great to have that support. I played hurling at school with a number of the current Waterford senior hurling team and it was great to see them on a high this year,” said O’Donoghue who is studying pharmaceutical and industrial chemistry at UL.
“I decided to go the rugby route when it came to the minor grade in hurling. I stuck with rugby, played U-18, U-19 and U-20 with Munster, went to Irish U-20s, secured my Academy spot and then on to a development contract this year.”