Dave O’Callaghan may be graduating from the Munster Academy this summer but he is fully aware there are plenty of skills still to be learned as he embarks on a professional rugby career with his native province, not least patience.
O’Callaghan, 22, was honoured at the 2012 Munster Rugby Awards in association with Irish Examiner at Thomond Park on Saturday night when he collected the John McCarthy Award for Academy Player of the Year.
The trophy, presented by the recently retired Jerry Flannery, was a testament to a season in which the Youghal back row made his first competitive start for Munster, against Ospreys in the RaboDirect Pro12, experienced his first taste of Heineken Cup rugby as a replacement in the epic away win over Northampton Saints and helped the A team to British & Irish Cup final success against Cross Keys.
Yet the really hard work starts now as O’Callaghan, with a one-year development contract signed in March, begins life full-time with the seniors and bids to become a more permanent fixture in the province’s matchday squad.
“There have been a lot of injuries in the back row this season so I did get a lot of chances, more than I might have hoped for at the start of the season but it’s still very competitive there and I have to be patient,” O’Callaghan explained.
“When you do get a chance you have to take it. Denis Leamy has been out for a while and he’s been great giving me advice. The lads are great. Obviously we’re competing for places but everyone’s helping each other for the team and they’re always giving whatever advice they can. We’re like sponges, we’re learning all the time.”
In winning the John McCarthy Award, O’Callaghan hopes to succeed 2011 winner Conor Murray and his fellow Academy graduates from last season Peter O’Mahony and Simon Zebo in pushing for first-team selection on a regular basis.
And he sees their success as a hint of the opportunities that may lie ahead.
“It’s definitely an incentive that anything is possible. There’s no reason why you can’t push on and get a taste of what they have this season. It’s a realisation that it can be achieved. Conor won it last year and it was well deserved. His rise has been phenomenal and to get even close to that would be a dream come true.
“I was delighted to sign the development contract, it’s a one-year deal and hopefully things will go well. I have to push it on now for next season.”
Like every other player signed on for next season, O’Callaghan will have a new head coach to impress in Rob Penney, who is set to replace Tony McGahan, but he is also grateful for the continuing presence of forwards coach Anthony Foley.
“I don’t know too much about him but he’s rated very highly and it’s a good move,” he said of Penney. “It will be great to have Axel there as forwards coach as well. I’ve been with him since I was in the Munster U20s so that’s a big one for me. I’ve been with him all the way through and have seen his progression as well. It’s good either way.”
So too was winning the B & I Cup, a success he believes has restored a bit of pride in the province.
“For a while there after being knocked out of the Heineken Cup we needed a lift and that spurred us on to get that silverware. Hopefully we can push on now in the RaboDirect.”
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