A first competitive start for his province, a Heineken Cup debut in a famous victory and lifting the British & Irish Cup would be quite the season for any young player but Dave O’Callaghan is just as grateful for the “life management” skills he has learned in the Munster Academy.
The 22-year-old back row from Youghal feels he has learned as much off the pitch as he has on it during his three years balancing a transition into professional rugby with the demands of studying for a commerce degree at University College Cork.
The on-field experience has been mightily impressive, with a starting debut for Munster in the RaboDirect Pro12 against Ospreys last October, a late run for his European bow in the thrilling win at Northampton Saints and a starring role in last week’s victory over Cross Keys to win some silverware.
Yet O’Callaghan feels he is also a better equipped person as a result of his time in the Academy.
“The Academy’s been very good for my development,” he said.
“Lifestyle-wise, it’s about discipline. You’re studying and you’re training, so you’re forced to be organised and that’s very good life management.
“It’s getting us used to being a professional rugby player as well as balancing the other side of it, my studies. So that was really important for me because I would have been the type of person to go all guns blazing into one thing and leave the other thing by the wayside. The Academy helped that.”
O’Callaghan, who has signed a one-year development contract for next season, gave special praise for the mentoring he received from Academy player development officer Ken O’Connell as well as to outgoing director of coaching Tony McGahan.
“Coming into the season, I was still in the Academy, so to have got the opportunities that I did I’ll always be grateful to him (McGahan). He gave me a chance, gave me a run in a couple of games, especially against Leinster (in the home RaboDirect Pro12 tie on April 1) and if you’d have asked me at the start of the year about that I’d never have thought at all I’d be involved.
“He’s improved me definitely, the way I read the game and in defence, with my scanning, he’s been very good for me.”
“Ken O’Connell was massive for me too. There’s a load of technical stuff that he’d show you but also just to give you the mindset and the stuff that coaches are looking for, building the aggression into you so you’re always mad to get involved.”
O’Callaghan readily admits he has felt the benefit of that mentoring now he has been exposed to training with the professionals.
“You’d notice it this season training with the senior squad and (Academy and age grade fitness coach) Joe McGinley is doing great work passing on his knowledge. We’re not just going off for a token couple of stretches, he is taking us through core exercises that are improving your game. We’re really learning some great stuff that will stand to us for the rest of our careers.”
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