Tommy O’Donnell has spoken of his delight at being named Munster Player of the Year at the end of a season when he finally established himself as a first-choice player.
The 25-year-old Tipperary native, who made his Munster debut in 2007, this season filled the vacuum left at openside flanker by the retirement of David Wallace, becoming new coach Rob Penney’s chosen number seven and playing 21 times in a 30-match campaign despite two spells on the sidelines through injury. O’Donnell, who was nominated by his team-mates to a shortlist also including fellow Munster academy graduates Simon Zebo and Dave Kilcoyne, received his award during the 2013 Munster Rugby Awards luncheon in Cork yesterday and in his acceptance speech referenced his long journey to a first-team place.
“It’s been a long time coming and I suppose even this season, coming into October, you wouldn’t have said my season would finish like this,” O’Donnell told master of ceremonies Donal Lenihan.
“It’s been a rollercoaster. Rob (Penney) and Cossie (Skills and A team coach Ian Costello) started noticing I was playing well and gave me a chance and it just went from there.
“When you see the calibre of player nominated with me, like Dave Kilcoyne, who’s had a terrific season and Simon Zebo, who’s a try-scoring machine, and just being nominated was fantastic. I’m delighted.”
O’Donnell also emerged this season as an influential squad member off the field, receiving plaudits for a rousing pre-match address to his team-mates ahead of the Heineken Cup quarter-final victory over Harlequins.
“I’ve taken my time getting into the team and last season was such a let-down when it came to it so when the dressing-room fell silent I just let my feelings show, that I didn’t want this year to pass us by. It was all pure emotion really and Dave Kilcoyne even had to tell me ‘you better get yourself together before you go out there!”
Zebo did not go home empty-handed, the 23-year-old having picked up Young Player of the Year. He told the audience at the Maryborough House Hotel: “It’s a great honour to receive such an accolade. It’s been an up and down season and unfortunately it finished with a semi-final exit against Clermont but there’s plenty of room for improvement and we’ll be back hopefully next season and hopefully we’re going to lift a trophy very soon.”
The John McCarthy Award for the Academy Player of the Year went to Dolphin prop James Cronin while the Munster Women’s Player of the Year award was received by Munster and Ireland Grand Slam winner Niamh Briggs, who will this weekend feature for her country in IRB Sevens Series at Twickenham ahead of the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow next month.
The Hall of Fame Award went to former Cork Constitution back row Liam Coughlan, a member of the Munster team which defeated the Australians at Musgrave Park in 1967.
Cork Con also celebrated being named Senior Club of the Year while Kanturk RFC were the Junior Club of the Year, Crescent College Comprehensive won the School of the Year award and Eddie Hogan O’Connell was named Referee of the Year. The Club Youth Section of the Year award went to Bandon RFC and there was some neat symmetry to the ceremony with the Club Mini Section of the Year going to player of the year O’Donnell’s hometown club Clanwilliam RFC.
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