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Munster prop O'Connor pushing his way back into big-game action

The loosehead admits it took time to adapt to the game again after a year sidelined with a terrible knee injury.

Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

THERE ARE SETBACKS and then there are veritable chasms that can befall athletes bidding for the top of their game.

Munster prop Liam O’Connor knows the difference well.

In 2017, the prop was enjoying a brilliant breakthrough. Johann van Graan arrived to replace Rassie Erasmus midway through his run of 11 appearances in the first half of the season.

Seven of that tally were from the start in the number 1 shirt, since then he has started just three matches. An arduous stint on the sidelines to rehab a nightmare injury requiring surgery on three knee ligaments is the catalyst behind the dramatic deviation in his vital statistics.

“It was tough, I think I played 11 of the first 12 games (in 2017/18 season),” says the 24-year-old, introduced as ‘Boomer’ by those who know him.

“I got that injury which at the start we didn’t think was that bad. but it turned out to be a lot worse than imagined. It went from hoping to rehab an ACL, to getting all three ligaments done – ACL, MCL and PCL.”

Three years on, he looks back at the positive elements, he had landed a senior contract before injury struck him down. On that front at least, he has remained fortunate as he signed his latest two-year deal before the pandemic struck last year.

The Corkman admits it took some time to settle back into rugby after his lay-off. The physical requirements were one thing, but scrum laws were tweaked while he was decommissioned, so he was playing catch-up on all fronts.

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The main difficulty in pandemic times is how to progress and develop when, for most of the year, there has been only professional training below senior competitive matches.

“I would have played a lot of AIL coming through,” says the Dolphin clubman, who as a teen also excelled at soccer and as a goalkeeper in the Cork Senior Football Championship.

“That got me where I am in Munster. So it’s disappointing not to be able to fall back and play club games, not as many A games. but the standard of training is going so well, we’re keeping up the pace that way.”

sipili-falatea-and-liam-oconnor O'Connor gets a tackle in as Munster beat Clermont. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

O’Connor will hope to add to his appearance tally tomorrow night when Munster travel to Wales to take on Cardiff Blues. Having played his part in the momentous win over Clermont in December, he has every chance of staking a claim for a role in the looming Champions Cup knockout stage.

“Trying to pick up where I was,” adds the prop.

“Just trying to get game-time under my belt and show Graham (Rowntree), Steven (Larkham) and Johann what I can do and bring to the team.”

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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