Family celebration for Ulster centurion Alan O’Connor

Good things are coming in twos to Alan O’Connor this week.

Family celebration for Ulster centurion Alan O’Connor

Good things are coming in twos to Alan O’Connor this week.

The 27-year-old will reach the milestone of 100 caps for Ulster in tonight’s PRO14 derby away to Leinster, and starting alongside his younger brother David for the first time in a competitive game will make it even more special.

“I think I have been so lucky to play for this club and to play 100 games is class,” he said.

“I never thought I’d play so many times, but I am here now and just really enjoying the buzz around the place, so happy out.”

Like so many players at the Kingspsan Stadium these days, O’Connor’s rugby journey started at Leinster.

He never got to play at the RDS until he joined Ulster, but insists joining the ‘100’ club at the home of his own province is irrelevant.

“It is not really that special in that kind of sense,” he says.

“Obviously I never played for Leinster, though it is my home.

“That is where I was born, that is where my family is, but the way I am looking at it is that what’s more important is the guys I am running out with on the day, and the brother should be involved too, which is great.

“You have to appreciate those moments and enjoy them.”

All teams struggle away to Leinster, and Ulster have only won once at the RDS in 20 years, back in 2013.

O’Connor admitted: “It (RDS) is obviously a bit of a fortress for them.

“We cannot be thinking about them too much, we have to get out there with our game.

We have our game that we pride ourselves on and we do not want to talk about them too much because that is not what we are fussed about, we are fussed about getting our own stuff right and then we will deal with them after that.

With so many internationals being rested at some stage or another during the interpros, it is traditionally an opportunity for fringe players to put their hand up.

If you’re talented enough and memorable enough, this could be the launchpad for a professional career.

“Most of the guys I know have gotten their debut or first two or three games around this Christmas period, so it is a massive opportunity for everyone,” says O’Connor.

“If you’re like an older guy playing with these young lads, it is a great opportunity to help them through it and make sure they enjoy it as well.

“They are going to be nervous, but they should not be — they need to look at it as an opportunity to kick-start their career.

“There are a lot of boys looking forward to it if they do get a shot.”

Opportunity is the name of the game for players on both sides, with sweeping changes being made after their exertions in Europe.

New Zealand centre Matt Faddes is the only Ulster player retained in the starting team from last week’s Champions Cup win over Harlequins.

Only Robbie Henshaw and Scott Fardy are retained in the Leinster line-up from their hammering of Northampton.

LEINSTER: R Kearney; F McFadden, T O’Brien, R Henshaw, C Kelleher; H Byrne, J Gibson-Park; P Dooley, S Cronin, A Porter; S Fardy, J Murphy; W Connors, S Penny, M Deegan

Replacements: B Byrne, C Healy, J Aungier, O Dowling, J van der Flier, H O’Sullivan, C Frawley, C O’Brien

ULSTER: R Lyttle; C Gilroy, M Faddes, A Curtis, A Kernogan; B Johnston, D Shanahan; A Warwick, A McBurney, T O’Toole; D O’Connor, A O’Connor; M Rea, N Timoney, G Jones

Replacements: J Andrew, K McCall, R Kane, J Regan, A Allison, J Stewart, S Moore, E McIlroy

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