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Dublin: 11 °C Monday 17 June, 2019

Donncha O'Callaghan to bow out after 20 seasons of professional rugby

“My family need me around more. As much as I love rugby, I love them more,” said the veteran lock.

FORMER MUNSTER AND Ireland lock Donncha O’Callaghan will bring the curtain down on his career at the end of this season.

The 38-year old said his mind is made up at this stage and that he will hang up his boots when this current campaign with Worcester Warriors comes to an end.

Donncha O'Callaghan with Connacht fans after the game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

O’Callaghan, Munster’s most capped player with 268 appearances in a career which saw him make his debut against Edinburgh Reivers in 1998, said he wants to get out while he is still fit and healthy.

“I am done. It’s been great. I have had a great time. I love the game and I want to finish loving it. Honestly, body-wise I feel great. The game is changing though and everyone is talking about it this season.

“Over the last three years the physicality has gone through the roof. I’d love to be able to walk away from it and say I had a great time within it and be thankful to the game itself.

“I just look at my own crew. Guys like Denis Leamy — he’s after getting a hip operation. I have four small kids, I want to be running around with them having fun, I don’t want to be stuck in goal in a five-a-side. You want to finish the game fit, healthy and well. You want to be active,” he said.

O’Callaghan, who won the last of his 94 Ireland caps against France in 2013, said that as a married man with four young children he needs to take into account their needs and must be available for them.

His wife Jenny, daughters Sophie, Anna and Robin, and son Jake, live in Cork, but O’Callaghan said the commute from the English midlands was not really a factor in his decision to retire at the end of the current season.

“It’s definite right now [the decision to retire]. I will be honest, the massive thing is I am being selfish, my family need me around more. As much as I love rugby, I love them more and I need to be there. That’s corny, isn’t it? But that’s the way it is.”

Donncha O'Callaghan Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

The former Lion said the main reason was that the attrition rate continues to rise in the professional game. He was due to sit out Worcester’s trip to Galway to play Connacht in the Challenge Cup at the weekend, but injuries meant he had to travel and come on as a replacement.

“If Darren Barry was available I wouldn’t have been summoned to go to Galway. It’s just he took a bang on the head and that’s what’s happening in the game this weekend.

“The big ones for me is you look at Robbie Henshaw and Leigh Halfpenny, their tackle technique is perfect. But they are still being run over by these big men.

“As a dad, Jake’s father, I think would I put my kid into a game? It’s beautiful to watch a fella playing a skilled game, learning skills, as opposed to, what do I tell Jake about getting as big as he possibly can and running over each other?”

O’Callaghan hasn’t got definite plans for when he steps down at the end of the campaign at Sixways, where he is club captain this season and has made 50 appearances since joining over two years ago, but he would like to stay involved in the game in some capacity, although he’s not sure about coaching.

“I don’t know. If you asked me right now I would say I would run a million miles from it. You don’t know the work that goes in on that end. And it’s not that I am shy of work. I just feel it’s massively unthanked. Sometimes you look at every foreign coach at home before we look at our own.

“There’s incredible talent under our roof. Credit to Leinster, they have got the model absolutely right, with Leo Cullen there supported by Stuart Lancaster. When you see that happening again throughout the provinces it’s really good. But we have got to get it to a point where we empower our Irish coaches because they are fantastic. Everyone is learning from the Pat Lams, the Stuart Lancasters and even the Joe Schmidts. We are lucky the talent is through the roof.

Donncha O'Callaghan Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I love how Munster have handled it. They have done a great job with the transition which can be massively sticky. Typical, but you knew they would. I can only go back to when I was there. I remember Declan [Kidney] was moving up to Irish camp and Alan Gaffney was coming in. He viewed everything for the first few months. Then you can pick and see what you need to work on and what you agree with when you get to know the lads. It’s been good, there are brilliant coaches there in Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones. But let’s not be afraid to push them on.

“I would like to stay involved in some way and I have a few options. You learn from the guys who have stepped out of the game how well to do it. I will be honest, I have got so much out of it and I love it so much it would be wrong to step away. But I want it to be in a giving-back capacity. I have been spoiled by the game, I really have. It’s shaped me and if I can pass it on it would be good,” added O’Callaghan.

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John Fallon

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