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O'Sullivan 'extremely proud' after road to Ulster leads on to first Ireland cap

The 25-year-old prop came off the bench in the win over Scotland.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THE DOUBTS HAD begun swirling in Eric O’Sullivan’s mind before he got a call from Ulster academy boss Kieran Campbell back in 2017.

The Dublin man had missed out on making the Leinster academy after featuring for his native province’s U20 side and was instead playing club rugby with Trinity.

O’Sullivan was excelling in the AIL but he wasn’t sure exactly who he was impressing. The thought that professional rugby was going to pass him by came into his head more than once as he progressed through his business studies degree.

The loosehead prop was in the midst of preparing for exams and was also sick at the time when a call came from Ulster academy boss Kieran Campbell out of the blue in January 2017.

“We need a prop, are you available? There might be a place in the academy too…”

O’Sullivan didn’t think twice. He impressed against Jersey and never looked back, earning his academy spot, making his senior Ulster debut in September 2018, and recently passing the 50-cap mark for the province.

The former Templeogue College student has worked hard to add a physical edge to his game in recent seasons, combining that stuff at the coalface with impressive handling skills and a big engine.

Injuries to Dave Kilcoyne and Ed Byrne opened the door for his Ireland debut last Saturday against Scotland and O’Sullivan was thrilled to win his first cap in the Autumn Nations Cup.

“I was extremely proud,” said O’Sullivan after Ireland’s 31-16 win. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do from my first time playing rugby. I wanted to be a professional rugby player and this is the pinnacle of that.

“I’m so proud to get the opportunity to get out there and represent my country, my family, everyone that’s been onto me during the week. It just means so much to me.”

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eric-osullivan-on-his-international-debut O'Sullivan on the charge for Ireland against Scotland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

He was inundated with messages in the build-up to his appearance off the bench but said that a text from his former Ulster captain, Rory Best, stood out.

“He was saying to enjoy the night before and just do what I’ve been doing. When someone with all that experience says to you that the night before the game is what he misses the most, you have to take that seriously.”

O’Sullivan played 15 minutes off the bench after replacing Cian Healy and was thrilled to be part of a scrum penalty win for Ireland soon after he was introduced.

The Ulster prop said he “was just pushing” as Andrew Porter won the penalty over on the other side but smiled in agreeing that “first scrums don’t really get better than that.”

The 25-year-old credited Ireland scrum coach John Fogarty for having him well-prepared at the set-piece and though he only had two chances to carry and two tackles to compete, he was happy to have been part of an encouraging win for Andy Farrell’s side.

Having been involved in Ireland camp for the final two weeks of the autumn schedule, O’Sullivan now returns to Ulster duty for a busy period of European and inter-provincial rugby.

His next job is trying to close the gap on Healy, Ireland’s starting loosehead.

“He’s been the benchmark for so long,” said O’Sullivan. “I would have looked up to him when I was playing in school. I think I have a lot to improve on to get to that level.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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