Ronan O’Gara wants to lead Munster’s young guns into another glorious golden era.
O’Gara’s decision to play on for at least another two years is partly down to the thrill of watching Keith Earls develop and also to steer Simon Zebo, Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony and others coming through the ranks.
“It’s good; the fans are excited about Zebo, Felix Jones is like a new player, and then you’ve got Peter O’Mahony,” he said.
“Keith is very young yet and people don’t talk about that anymore but he has set the level for the young aspiring players in Munster and that slack has been taken up by others, like Conor, who has excelled.
“There’s Danny Barnes, Mike Sherry, Ian Nagle and more, all of whom are contributing. Of course they need to because otherwise we would be going nowhere, but they are the future. We can see them wanting it, they’re so ambitious with such drive and it gives myself and Paulie [Paul O’Connell], Wally [David Wallace] and other older guys a huge lift to see that.”
That feel-good factor is a big reason behind his decision to play on, but so too is his desire for more success.
“I suppose there are dark days too but if you’re true to yourself they are the days that you learn about yourself, knuckle down and work harder.
“I’ve been very lucky with the [lack of] long term injuries, I did my cruciate ligament but I did a little bit of a magical healing tour when I avoided surgery. I paid the price a bit in terms that the knee was never right for a couple of years afterwards but had I taken the other course I would have missed a Lions’ tour, so that was brilliant.”
O’Gara believes Munster have taken a huge leap forward since the dark days following their Heineken and Amlin Cup exits last season and he is quietly confident he can help the side to a third European title.
“Absolutely, I wouldn’t be sitting here unless I wanted to win it or unless I thought there was a possibility of winning it. If I was thinking that way [negatively], I would have been gone out of here.
“I’m enjoying my rugby. I’m hugely motivated although not any more than before, that motivation was always burning deep inside me; that will never change. I just have full belief in this Munster team, nine months or so ago there was a lot of negativity about the place but you wouldn’t really have a true understanding of how it was unless you’re inside the group, inside the circle.
“With me there would always be a steady equilibrium; the mood wouldn’t get too high or it wouldn’t get too low, you’ve got to have that drive inside you if you want to keep being the best.”
O’Gara figures Munster are 30% better than they were at the same time last year and he puts that down to the emergence of those young players in addition to the high work ethic at player and management level.
“We have knuckled down to work, dealt with injuries and there’s a huge vibrancy in the squad, strength in depth, competition for places and there’s a very good feel in the camp.
“That’s something that has been created not alone by the players but by the management. It’s essential to have that vibe in the squad because these are the assets you need going forward.”
Tonight’s RaboDirect Pro12 clash with old rivals Leinster will, however, provide his side with a huge test and he heaped praise on Leo Cullen’s team for the way they’ve played so far.
“It’s not an opinion, it’s a fact,” he said when asked whether Leinster are the best team in Europe. Where are they in relation to last year?
“I don’t think they’re at 100%, but maybe 97%. They’re the holders and they’re where we were a few years ago. Now we’re trying to get back up there.
“It’s a game that will test us in every area. It should tell us a lot of how we’re going and where we are. In terms of quality of opposition it doesn’t come any higher, so in that regard it is perfect preparation for the Ulster game.”
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