Jack O’Donoghue may be an international back row in his own right but you can understand his desire to make a mark in Italy this weekend before CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony make their returns from Ireland duty.
With a Champions Cup quarter-final at home to French giants Toulouse looming in eight days, and Stander and O’Mahony due to be back in the mix after standout Six Nations campaigns as well the return of Ireland squad member Tommy O’Donnell, the competition for the Munster jerseys numbered six, seven and eight is only going to become more intense.
So O’Donoghue, who feels he is playing catch-up having missed recent matches against Scarlets and Cardiff Blues with an ankle problem, knows a run tomorrow against Guinness PRO12 opposition Zebre in Parma is an excellent opportunity to lay down his claim for involvement in the big European knockout clash the following weekend.
“This game could be a make or break for me because I missed out on two games. The minutes I get this weekend will be vital for me,” the 23-year-old said.
“I cannot afford to get caught up in the what could happen otherwise the game will pass me by and you have done nothing to put yourself forward. I am trying to focus on the game and what I can do in it. I have to try and play the best I can and do the little things like catch, pass, carry and tackle and the performance will come from there.”
Focusing on facing the bottom club in the PRO12 is made more difficult when all anyone is talking about is the sell-out Thomond Park showdown with European big guns Toulouse but Waterford-born O’Donoghue believes the anticipation can feed into tomorrow’s performance.
“There has been a massive buzz about the place since we qualified for the quarter- finals. The internationals then dispersed and it was left up to the lads who have been here and who have played the majority of the games this season to take up the reins.
“Younger lads like Dan Goggin and Conor Oliver have come in and put in some very good performances. There were some mixed emotions then around Ireland and their results, but those international players are still going to come back and they are going to bring a massive energy and buzz to the place, as they all performed very well in the Six Nations.
“That is only going to lead into this week for us, with a few of them coming back in for game-time. Even this weekend there is going to be a massive energy and a massive push.”
A mixed Six Nations campaign for Joe Schmidt’s Ireland, with losses to Scotland and Wales dashing title ambitions, was matched by O’Donoghue’s feelings about being overlooked by the national head coach.
Having made his Test debut against Canada last November, the Munster back rower could have felt sorry for himself at missing out on championship involvement, at least until that ankle injury struck against Ospreys on February 18, two games into the tournament.
“It was mixed emotions,” he said of the Six Nations. “You wanted to be there. You see the lads get that unbelievable result (against England) at the weekend and you think, ‘what can I do to be there next year?’
“It gives you the drive and the motivation and with a summer tour coming up too I am going to try and do my utmost to make that tour. It comes back to Munster too, of course.
“If you are not playing for Munster, how can you be considered to play for Ireland?
“That is my focus now. I have been out for a few weeks and I haven’t really been on the pitch.
“So I am looking forward to this weekend, if selected, to get a few minutes under the belt ahead of the Toulouse game.”
O’Donoghue signed a two-year contract extension with Munster last week and he is looking to kick on both his provincial and international careers between now and the 2019 World Cup.
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