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'I would kick myself in the face if I was the fella who threw on a tracksuit and was jobs for the boys'

Donncha O’Callaghan is preparing to bring the curtain down on his professional career, and explains to The42 that he is looking forward to life at home with his young family in Cork.

THE ENTHUSIASM, PASSION and hunger are all still palpable in the way Donncha O’Callaghan talks. The flame has barely flickered over the years. Neither has the body; he captains Worcester Warriors against London Irish later. It will be his 15th appearance of the season. But there is more to life than rugby. Family now comes first. There are no more choices, no more sacrifices.

Donncha O'Callaghan speaks to his team Source: James Crombie/INPHO

O’Callaghan will bring the curtain down on a two-decade professional career at the end of the season, calling time on everything he has known. There have been offers from other clubs — testament to his enduring fitness and perpetual worth in a dressing room and on the field — but the decision is set in stone. There is not going to be a late change of heart, or one last hurrah. This is it. Seven games left.

You get the sense O’Callaghan would love to carry on — who wouldn’t? — but at 38, he has different priorities now. His family — wife, Jenny and four young children, Sophie, Anna, Robin and Jake — mean more than another season. He wants to get out when he is fit and healthy, but more importantly to spend time with his family back in Cork.

“I just need to be around my family more, I really do,” the former Ireland second row tells The42.

“They’re too small and look I’ll be honest, I’ve seen from everything that has gone on over the last year that family are the most important thing and spending time with them is priceless. It needs to be cherished and I got a wake-up call last year as well that I need to be around them more.

“I was absolutely obsessed with rugby and now thankfully I have a new number one. I have no problem saying it, rugby was all I was centered on and all I was concerned about but now it’s all about the family and doing right by them.”

A significant factor in the decision-making process was the amount of time O’Callaghan spends away from home living and playing over in Worcester. He commutes back and forth from Cork on a weekly basis but, even still, it’s just not the same.

O’Callaghan has been on the road since 1998, making his senior Munster debut against Edinburgh Reivers, and went on to become the province’s most capped player with 268 appearances.

The second row has spent the last two-and-a-half years at Sixways Stadium where he has been talismanic in his contributions for Worcester Warriors. He has won the player of the year award for the last two seasons. He has always led from the front on and off the pitch, driving standards and demanding better from those around him. Even in this his 39th year, he remains a key figure in Gary Gold’s side.

“I actually think I could be playing better but I’m happy with how I’m going stat wise,” he says. “I’ll be honest, I swear I would have walked away 10, 20 years ago if I wasn’t able to contribute or of any use. The biggest area I’ve seen where I’ve developed in is probably the leadership side of things.

Barbarians v Tonga - Friendly - Thomond Park Stadium Source: PA Wire/PA Images

“That was an area I wish I contributed more in terms of just being more helpful to the brilliant leaders we had. You know now as a captain of a team how much you appreciate guys that actually help you whereas I left everything to the likes of Anthony Foley, Brian O’Driscoll, Rory Best and Paul O’Connell — but when you’re a captain of a team you love when someone can help you.

“I used to be a good man for giving away a daft penalty, and now you realise ‘oh my god’, that three points is so hard to get, where am I going to get that back? I remember the daggers from Drico over a stupid pen and I now I get it.

“If I wasn’t at it, I’d be the first to walk away, but I do feel at the moment that I still contribute. And honestly, I’m not just saying it, but I think that I could continue to [contribute], just the family side of things needs to be improved and get right.”

It goes without saying that O’Callaghan will miss it, particularly when his hunger and appetite for the game remains undiminished.

“Yeah, I’ll miss it a lot. Well, because I don’t feel like I’m coming away from it, I actually think I’m going back to where I started [Cork and Munster]. You should have seen me over Johnny’s [Sexton's] drop-goal. Everyone says, and I remember reading [Gordon] D’Arcy’s column saying that he couldn’t go to a Leinster match and all that, I can’t compute that.

“I don’t see any distance from me to the lads, I think I’m just 100% a fan, and I had my spin or my go, and I loved it. It was brilliant, and now it’s other guys chance. I can’t wait to go to games with my friend, with my family, and just be there shouting them on and enjoying the moments of it.

“But I will miss the dressing room. I know that now. I know from the guys that I respect, that have come out the other side. Of course, I’ll train and the competitive edge can be scratched somewhere else. You can do something to take the edge off that, but just the fun around the dressing room. Because it is tough. You lose your job, but you also lose 30 guys you hang around with for like eight hours a day. I think that is the area that needs probably more support.”

For now, there are no definite plans for the next chapter.

O’Callaghan has dipped his toes in a couple of things over the last year, most notably punditry and TV work with BT Sport, RTÉ’s Ireland’s Fittest Family show and The Rugby Club on TV3. He was in Dublin this week launching Centra’s Live Well campaign. There will be no shortage of opportunities anyway.

But what about coaching?

The 94-time capped Ireland international, two-time Heineken Cup winner and two-time Lions tourist has watched some of his former team-mates — Jones, O’Connell and Flannery — take up positions at Munster while others, including O’Gara, have taken their first steps on the ladder abroad.

Former Munster player Donncha O'Callaghan watches training Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“I 100% will be involved with Munster, in terms of being the supporter,” O’Callaghan says. “But I do think there needs to be a bit of breathing space as well.

“I won’t shy away from the fact that I would never want to go in there and never wanted to be involved in Munster, but I would need to carry my own weight. I don’t know the areas that I would need to up skill at the moment to be good enough to come in and make a useful contribution.

“I would kick myself in the face if I was the fella that threw on a tracksuit and was jobs for the boys. It’s not what the place deserves, it’s not what Irish rugby is about.

“I keep in contact with an awful lot of the lads. I’m an agony aunt nearly to most of them. It’s just stuff like being able to give guys advice on selection, on contracts, on stuff that’s going on with their missus.

“Or just small little things, like the move up to Limerick. It’s amazing how many guys you chat to and they want to talk to you about that, because they’re struggling with it and they miss certain things.

“I’ve never detached myself in any way and the same with the Worcester lads. You like to think you’re always there for them.”

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