It has been a few years since Tiernan O’Halloran did his Leaving Certificate but there must have been a real sense of “here we go again” when the Connacht full-back earned his promotion to Ireland camp for this tour to South Africa.
Initially overlooked when Joe Schmidt named his travelling party for the three-Test series with the Springboks, O’Halloran, 25, maintained his focus on Pro12 glory with his native province, as Pat Lam’s side closed in on silverware with a final against Leinster in Edinburgh.
No sooner was the trophy safely back in Galway than O’Halloran was having to cancel a holiday to Mauritius with girlfriend Dana, called up to the Ireland squad as Rob Kearney succumbed to injury.
That was when the nerves kicked in, O’Halloran having to get up to speed with the Schmidt way of doing things at breakneck speed while getting to grips with his first experience of an Ireland camp since the Declan Kidney era.
“There was definitely a bit of disappointment when the squad was named the week before the final,” he said. “At the time we just had to focus on the massive game ahead and going into that I wasn’t really dwelling too much on the selection of the Ireland squad.
“I took the final as it went and then took the call from Joe on the Tuesday evening. He’d rung me originally with his reasons for not picking me, but then I worked hard and the call came after the final saying he’d like me to come up to camp.
“Obviously, I still wasn’t sure if I was coming on tour but there was a couple of injury doubts and then Rob pulled up in training at the Aviva. Joe pulled me aside and told me I’d be going.
“There was a mix of emotions at the time, I was very nervous and had a lot to learn. I’d a lot of plays, it was my first time to be in camp with Joe and I’d to learn everything from scratch.
“It wasn’t just learning full-back, it was the wing and a couple of other positions so it was a massive learning experience. We’d our two-day camp in Dublin, then we’d a couple of days off, and after those couple of days off I’d to channel myself and get myself ready for a big three weeks over here.
“It was pretty intense in those two days at the Aviva, we’d a tough training session on the Wednesday up there as well.
“It was a lot of information, I’d to spend a lot of time at the computers trying to learn it all.
“I did get things wrong and you do get in trouble for it as well. It’s an intense environment, but I like to put myself in that situation and it will make me a better player as well. So, just trying to learn from it all. Even now, still two-and-a-half weeks into camp I’m still trying to learn. It’s exciting, but you’re nervous all the time as well; you’re always on edge. But I’m hoping it will make me a better player as well.”
The detail O’Halloran had to absorb was only the half of it. “Apart from all the detail that you learn coming in, it’s that intensity in everything you do. Not just on the pitch, but in meetings you have to really, really concentrate on everything that’s going on because there is a lot of information.”
The homework and extra study paid off for the Connacht full back last Saturday when he made his Test debut as a replacement for Jared Payne in the final four minutes of the second Test. With Robbie Henshaw’s tour over and Payne a candidate to return to the midfield, O’Halloran may be due for further promotion.
“I’m still hoping to get an opportunity and I suppose if I do get that opportunity I need to take it because it’s a tough environment up here and if you don’t you could fall down the pecking order again.”
With such a successful season in the books already, O’Halloran said he will have to recalibrate his career ambitions over the summer. “Once I’m finished after this week, I’ve a couple of weeks off (to take that rescheduled holiday in Mauritius), and I’ll have to just reset everything, do a bit of goal-setting, and we’ll look where we’re going from there.
“Hopefully there’ll be plenty of opportunities next year, put in some good performances with Connacht and hopefully it will lead to getting me back in here again. Hopefully work hard this week and maybe get another chance at the weekend and take it from there.”
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