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'Dwell on the past, you're going to be stuck there': O'Donnell at peace with World Cup woe

The flanker’s healthy mind has helped his body to follow suit after a horrible dislocated hip injury in August.

IN THE DYING weeks of last year, the name of Enda McNulty, through no fault of the sports psychologist himself, was hoisted up like a swingball for the back-and-forth batting amusement and bemusement from a high profile critic and McNulty’s own devout followers.

Tommy O'Donnell runs in their second try Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

For Tommy O’Donnell, the IRFU’s go-to man for matters of mentality has been nothing but a helping hand the with barriers and obstacles faced in the prime of his career.

The Munster flanker personified the ready-to-go ideal of a Joe Schmidt squad man in the first game of last season’s Six Nations. Starting openside Sean O’Brien picked up an injury in the very final run of the pre-match warm-up. Despite being handed a starting jersey mere minutes before the first whistle, O’Donnell was a try-scoring star of the win over Italy.

“I had good prep that week and there was no real sign that there was anything wrong with Seanie (O’Brien), so it was very last minute,” O’Donnell said as Ulster Bank announced the continuation of their partnership with the IRFU yesterday.

“Getting into it, trying to get the jersey on, the anthem was on before you realised you were into it. Obviously it went well; with the prep that we’d done over the weeks and getting the reps I was as comfortable as I was.”

Resolve

That prep includes O’Donnell’s work with McNulty, who helps the openside cope and adapt to the role of an understudy while maintaining the aspirations and focus of a front-liner.

“I have learned that it’s all about your mental resilience, your resolve, and working hard with Enda has helped me with that.

“Just because you played well and were not selected does not count against you. That performance was banked. If you have played well, you just need to go out there and do it again.”

He adds: “Whatever role comes my way, if I have a job to do, it’s important I do that to the best of my ability.

“It stood me well the way I have prepared in the last couple of games, the way I have gone into different camps with Ireland — that is the best way to approach it to put in the most solid performance I can and put the best foot forward.”

Playing back-up to a man like Sean O’Brien was by no means the most difficult hurdle for O’Donnell last year though. The 28-year-old appeared to be in the form and shape of his life in the summer before being struck down with a dislocated hip that ruled him out of the World Cup.

Tommy O'Donnell down injured Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Even that, he managed to take in a slow deliberate stride. He speaks of a patient return to full fitness and modestly shrugs off the physical shape he pushed himself into before that awful experience against Wales in August.

“It’s hard not to when you consider the amount of weeks we had put down and the amount of work we had done. Especially with the quality of players there and you know that you’re building up to the World Cup, everyone was just driving each other on physically and mentally. It was great to be training, especially with the summer that we had, it was roasting hot so it wasn’t hard to be shedding the body fat.

Good as new

“Obviously then, I had six weeks off after the injury so I slipped a little bit, I won’t lie, I took my time and recovered. But I was very smart about how I went about my recovery then as well and I didn’t start packing on too much muscle or didn’t let myself go too much.”

Back-to-back 80-minute shifts against Stade Francais and Treviso are evidence enough of that. O’Donnell is back good as new. No lingering regret over missing the World Cup, these things happen.

The Tipp man is a master living in the here and now, appreciating the time off injury brought him, time that has left him hungry for another Six Nations campaign.

“Because of the nature of the injury and everything like that, I made peace with it very quickly. And actually, I’ve said it a couple of times that I really enjoyed sitting down and watching the World Cup and the few weeks after it.

After the summer we had I got to meet and socialise with a lot of friends that I hadn’t over the summer. So I think that you can’t hang on to these things and for me I’ve made peace with it.”

“I think (that) comes from how we should be as players. If you make a mistake in a match you have to move on from it. So if something happens like that, a big moment or an injury, you need to be able to move on from it.

“And I think that’s how you have to go about your career, that’s how you keep setting goals for yourself and keep moving on.

“It’s the only way. If you dwell on the past you’re going to be stuck there.”

Rob Herring, Devin Toner and Tommy O'Donnell Devin Toner, Tommy O’Donnell and Rob Herring were on hand in Carton House as Ulster Bank announced they will continue as title sponsors of the All-Ireland League until 2018 as well as Official Community Rugby Partner to the IRFU. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“I don’t want to get too far ahead in thinking, because I’m only a couple of weeks back from injury. I need to focus on myself as well, because it happened me before: I came back, had a couple of games and all of a sudden you’re sliding off because you stopped focusing on those little details.

“At the moment I’m just wholly focused on week-to-week and being better, focusing on techniques.

“There are lots of things for us to be working on to be good at – whether it’s rucks or tackling – and we need to be the best across all of those in the Six Nations if we’re to retain it.”

Healthy mind, body and croc-rolls.

Ulster Bank has supported club rugby at a community level for the past six years, investing in a number of helpful initiatives including providing over €160,000 in funding through their RugbyForce programme.

Archive>>> ‘It wouldn’t happen again in 1,000 tries’: O’Donnell on the freak injury that ruined his World Cup

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Sean Farrell

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