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‘O’Malley was about to be great, an heir to Brian O’Driscoll’s number 13 jersey’

Leinster centre forced to retire at the age of 25 with a knee injury.

O'Malley, right, shares a joke with senior stars Paul O'Connell and Jonny Sexton during an Ireland training camp in 2012.
O'Malley, right, shares a joke with senior stars Paul O'Connell and Jonny Sexton during an Ireland training camp in 2012.
Image: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

IT SHOULDN’T HAPPEN at this time of the year. Rugby is supposed to be looking at a season of limitless possibility. Yet it does.

Nobody should be forced to give up on the career they’ve set their heart on for over a decade, but today Leinster Rugby broke the news that Eoin O’Malley’s knee has ended his life as a professional sportsman.

Our first reaction was, ‘he could have been great’.

Scratch that.

O’Malley was about to be great, an heir to Brian O’Driscoll’s pressure-laden number 13 jersey for both club and country.

His retirement comes not only before he was fully formed as a rugby player, but also before we and the rest of the watching public got to know him fully as a person.

As much as we’ll remember his flashes of brilliant promise in midfield, we’ll remember him as the clean cut, polite man in training gear who was never slow to smile or acknowledge your presence while many of his peers retained a steely glare towards the training field.

image

(©INPHO/Ryan Byrne)

His last true game for Leinster – before the saga of false dawns on the comeback trail began – was the 2012 RaboDirect semi-final.

The following Monday morning, despite the province being on the cusp of the greatness that back-to-back Heineken Cups and an (ultimately failed) Pro12 title tilt would bring, the mood around Leinster’s old training base in Clonskeagh was decidedly gloomy.

Forwards coach Jono Gibbes ordinarily jokes as he tries to rhyme off the weekend’s injury news. On this day, though, the ex-All Black lumbered out cradling the folded sheet of paper and bearing a painful wince.

Before the number 23 shirt had been extended to international Tests, O’Malley had been Declan Kidney’s 23rd man in that year’s Six Nations. He was there as emergency injury cover, but more importantly as part of a grooming process to make his transition to senior international a seamless one.

His comeback from injury last season was a series of false starts, but he was finally thrust back into the firing line, a surprise late call-up on the trip to Cardiff.

“It was more excitement,” he told TheScore.ie in February.

“I wasn’t really in my head. I didn’t have the time to be nervous for that one. Whereas I had a good sense I was starting [his second game of the season against Treviso] so there were a good bit of nerves, good bit of excitement. It was nice to be back playing in the RDS, it’s been a while.”

It’s a feeling he will never again enjoy. Rather than being at the heart of the bull-ring, he’ll have to learn to be satisfied being one of the crowd. It won’t suit him, not with that talent.

If this feels like a wake then it shouldn’t. The scars of real life and death situations are too deep and too fresh on rugby’s macho exterior to be forgotten lightly.

His first attempt at a career may well be over, but life begins at 25 for Eoin O’Malley.

Leinster’s Eoin O’Malley forced to retire after long-standing knee injury

O’Driscoll reacts to ‘absolutely brutal’ news of O’Malley’s retirement

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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