THESE are precious times for Munster supporters; what’s often overlooked is that for the players whom those supporters come to cheer, the times are even more special.
Out-half Ronan O’Gara acknowledged yesterday that with its massive 83,000 capacity, Croke Park on May 2 against Leinster is going to be another huge occasion for Irish rugby, but he was at pains yesterday to pay tribute to Thomond Park and its unique atmosphere.
“I suppose one of the most enjoyable parts of today was when the crowd started singing at Tommy Bowe. You have to appreciate things like that and in fairness to Tommy he took it as only Tommy could (a smile, discreet handclap).
“They don’t miss a trick here, do they? They know exactly what makes this team tick and I think they have done for years. It will be awful trying to replace that when you hang up your boots.”
During that recent Grand Slam campaign O’Gara suffered some rare dodgy moments with his kicking. Yesterday, he had a new routine, the most quirky element of which saw him dig the toe of his right foot into the sod when he was getting set for the kick.
“I’ve been experimenting; kicking is obviously a subject that fascinates me. Tony McGahan (Munster coach) has brought in Dave Alred and with Ireland Mark Tainton has been there for years. It’s a little bit of mixing and matching.
“Obviously people will say ‘you’ve kicked very well for 10 years’, but I’m always trying to improve and improve.
“I’ve just found a new power position in the last few weeks and I’ve tried to work on that. It’s probably something that I enjoy in training and stuff, and that’s what makes me tick.”
O’Gara also paid tribute to McGahan, for whom the out-half clearly has huge respect.
“The good thing about this team is that whatever Tony has got into our heads, it seems like we’ve a big match every week, and it doesn’t matter who the starting XV is.
“You’ll see now the emphasis he’ll put on the Connacht (Magners League, next weekend) will be huge come Tuesday morning. He’s running a really smooth machine that just wants to churn out results, and I think we appreciate the ambition he’s shown. Being realistic there’s probably half a dozen players that have three years more, max, and we want to try and collect medals and move on.
“Last week was a big game against Leinster, and this was a big game but it felt no different to a Magners League game, which is odd, because before it felt completely different.”
Another player who’s done some tweaking of his game over the last few years is flanker David Wallace. Always recognised for his phenomenal ball-carrying, by his own admission Wallace is now in the form of his life and looks a certainty for the Lions.
“I’d like to think I’ve developed my game. When you think back five or six years I’ve learned a lot from coaches, technically, to be more than just a good runner with the ball. Be better technically, the little things, become more of a complete player,” he says.
All of that but you must also have the kind of humility these guys show, the acknowledgement that while they are the ones on the park, they are also just a part of a bigger picture, the unique but ever-changing dynamic that is Munster rugby.
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