‘I would have felt like a fraud if I'd done another year at Munster’ -- Donncha O'Callaghan

The Corkman explains why he hasn’t called Paul O’Connell since his injury and why he thinks the Toulon lock can still tour New Zealand.

Rory Keane reports from Sixways, Worcester

EVEN AFTER 18 years playing at the top level, Donncha O’Callaghan still has that sense of fun about him.

Happily mingling with a small group of Irish fans following Worcester’s last-gasp win over Northampton, O’Callaghan poses for photos and shares a few jokes.

Rugby Union - Aviva Premiership - Worcester Warriors v Northampton Saints - Sixways Stadium O'Callaghan and Phil Dowson celebrate the last-gasp drop-goal. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Sitting in the stands at Sixways, a beaming O’Callaghan waves at a passer-by leaving the stadium.

“See ya Greg, God bless, that’s my old maths teacher,” O’Callaghan observes from the stands, still clad in his playing gear following Worcester’s 13-12 victory over the Saints, before adding:

“He came all the way over from Christians (CBC Cork), Greg Ahern, he came over on the 3pm flight today, he’s going back in the morning. He just wanted to show a bit of support.

“I can remember him freaking with me and about to throw a duster! Now, he’s out supporting me so it’s nice.”

All seems well with O’Callaghan at his new club. After a staggering 17 seasons with Munster, the Corkman decided to pursue a new challenge across the water.

The 94 times-capped lock was his usual industrious self for his club’s season opener against a Northampton side containing England internationals Dylan Hartley, Luther Burrell and Lee Dickson.

O’Callaghan even drew the ire of Northampton’s water carrier during the slug-fest when he cheekily grabbed a sip from one of their bottles during a break in play. Some things never change.

Shorn of first-team opportunities at Thomond Park in recent seasons, O’Callaghan craved regular rugby and, despite admitting to plenty of trepidation about the move, the influence of Worcester’s director of rugby, Dean Ryan, convinced him to up sticks.

“It was a huge decision. It would have been easy to bow out and it would have been easy to… I’ll be honest… I would have felt like a fraud if I had done another year at Munster.

“It was the first time I felt like I was taking more than I was giving, if you know what I mean. I was earning good money but not really playing. I hated that, I felt like a fraud in front of the lads.

“It was tough, Just from a chatting to him (Dean Ryan), he’s someone I respect, he was completely honest with me and told me the role he sees for me within the club. And he explained what he wants out of me, one hundred per cent.

“I didn’t shirk from the fact that it was a challenge, but the biggest thing for me was he was speaking my kind of language when he was talking about the start of my journey. I’ve got a lot of time for him; I think he’s got good values and good traits.”

It’s funny how time has flown by, this reporter remembers watching O’Callaghan and Paul O’Connell knock seven bells out of each other during an All-Ireland League semi-final between Cork Constitution and Young Munster at Temple Hill back in 2001.

They were pair of young tyros at that stage. Heineken Cups, World Cups, Lions Tours and a Grand Slam were all ahead of them. Now, they are in the final acts of their respective careers. O’Callaghan will spend this season fighting it out week-to-week in the Aviva Premiership with the newly-promoted Warriors while O’Connell, when he gets back on his feet, will be mixing it with the likes of Giteau, Nonu and Habana on the Côte d’Azur.

Paul O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan Throwback: POC and DOC take in the scenery while on tour with Ireland. Source: INPHO

The pair soldiered together for province and country for the best part of the decade. O’Connell’s stellar Test career ended in a cruel twist against the French. It was a sad way to see one of Ireland’s warriors bow out of the Test arena. O’Callaghan made contact with his friend and former team-mate but was all too aware of the pain he was feeling:  

“I texted him, I didn’t want to call him just yet because I know, with injured players, I’m very conscious of making sure you don’t have the same chat. I’d rather chat to him asking: ‘how’s Paddy’, I’d rather meet up with him… I don’t know, it’s hard to describe, I’ll ring him soon.”

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O’Callaghan and O’Connell were ever-present on Munster and Ireland team-sheets for the best part of a decade. Hugely competitive on the field and firm friends off it, O’Callaghan paid tribute to a legend of the Irish game.

“I just think. For me, it’s always harsh to judge Paulie as a rugby player. He’s an incredible man,” said the former Munster lock.

I know I chat about traits and values but, for me, as a dad, trying to bring up a young fella, he’s exactly how you want him to be and I’m thankful to him. He pushed me to play beyond myself. I was a better fella, a better player and a better person for being around him. I know that kind of sounds unbelievably corny but it’s the fucking truth.

“He demands so much of you and expects so much of you that you don’t think you can actually reach it yourself but he can bring you there. He’s a special, special fella.”

O’Connell’s career finished in a blaze of glory. The Irish skipper tearing his hamstring frantically trying to win possession on the deck as Ireland defended a late French onslaught before the break. He was hugely missed during the Pumas mauling.

O’Callaghan, however, has backed O’Connell to deliver his customary manic brilliance for Mourad Boudjellal’s star-studded outfit over the next few seasons. The Lions will tour New Zealand in the summer of 2017, just after his contract expires and what a swansong that would be…

Rugby Union - British & Irish Lions Tour - Third Test match - New Zealand v British Lions - Eden Park O'Connell and O'Callaghan embrace after playing the third Lions Test against New Zealand in 2005. Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

“Don’t write him off,” O’Callaghan added. “I think people are saying his international career is over and, maybe it is, but I think he’ll play two massive years for Toulon and I know the importance, when I went to New Zealand (in 2005), of having Lawrence Dallaglio there, an old head on a Lions tour that’s done it and been there and I think he’ll bring serious value to that. I think that would be an incredible goal for him.

“Sometimes, you need the alpha male in the dressing room that everyone can look at and he brings more than just his play. He’s playing well enough for that to be attainable for him.”

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