THIS TIME LAST year, Jack O’Sullivan was preparing to lead his school into quarter-final action in the Munster Senior Schools Cup, a competition they would go onto win, but in the intervening 12 months, his career has been on a steep upward trajectory.
Having captained Presentation Brothers College to their first senior title in seven years with victory over Glenstal, O’Sullivan’s imposing performances from the back of the scrum were recognised when he was selected for Ireland U19s’ two-game trip to France in April.
“We lost both games, it was a step up,” he recalls.
But since then the number eight — a first cousin of Rory and Niall Scannell, both of whom also came through PBC to play for Ireland U20s — has earned a place in the Munster academy, featured in two British and Irish Cup games for the province and, last Friday, started Ireland’s opening U20 Six Nations game against France in Bordeaux.
“It is a big step, a massive step,” the Douglas native admits. “We played two English teams in the B&I Cup, and they’re always huge at that level.
“But I’d say France was probably a step up again. Even the pace of the game, it was quicker than B&I. It took a bit of getting used to.”
Ireland’s first-half performance was error-strewn and it took Noel McNamara’s side time to settle into the contest, although a second-half fightback proved too little, too late as they were unable to overturn the deficit to slip to a 10-point defeat.
However, O’Sullivan who has had to step in and fill the considerable void left by the injured, and highly-rated, Leinster forward Caelan Doris, says the players, under the instruction of coaches McNamara, Paul O’Connell and Tom Tierney, just started to believe in themselves.
“We just kinda started to believe in ourselves,” he continues. “For a lot of us, that was our first time playing at 20s level so it just took a bit of getting used to.
“The coaches said ‘believe’ at half time, which we did. We trusted our shapes. Once we got into our shape, we did fine. I suppose we just have to take that into the Italy game now. We’re confident going into it, looking back on our second half.”
Having suffered defeat on the opening week, the visit of Italy to Donnybrook on Friday evening takes on another layer of significance for McNamara’s young side and O’Sullivan is desperate to seize his chance in a green shirt again.
While he can also play blindside, the 19-year-old prefers to operate in the number eight position and is a tireless worker around the pitch while also offering a strong ball-carrying option.
He adds: “I love to get on the ball and get in the game. I suppose that’s my job. That’s what I’m there for.”
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