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Dublin: 4 °C Friday 17 January, 2020
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After 'freak accident' in 2015, TOD targets spot in Schmidt's World Cup plan

The 32-year-old Munster man was injured in a warm-up game four years ago.

YOU COULD FORGIVE Tommy O’Donnell for shuddering at the memory of the World Cup warm-up games – or single game in his case – four years ago.

In the mix for a place in Joe Schmidt’s final 31-man squad for the 2015 tournament, the Cahir flanker was cruelly cut down by a horror hip dislocation in Ireland’s first friendly fixture against Wales.

Tommy O'Donnell down injured O'Donnell suffered a serious injury before the 2015 World Cup. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Almost exactly four years later, it’s likely that O’Donnell will be involved in Ireland’s opening warm-up against Italy in Dublin this Saturday, with the 32-year-old flanker once again among Schmidt’s options for the World Cup.

O’Donnell has played for Ireland since that nasty incident in 2015 but further injuries have prevented the luckless flanker from being more of a regular at Test level, with his most recent shoulder issue meaning he hasn’t played for Munster since January.

Far from worrying that the dejection he suffered in 2015 could occur again, the affable and optimistic O’Donnell has been throwing himself into Ireland’s pre-season training with eagerness and won’t be holding back on Saturday at the Aviva Stadium if selected.

“You have to put it down to a freak accident,” says O’Donnell of 2015. “It could have happened in the first warm-up game, it could have happened in the last one, it could have happened in the first game of the World Cup.

“That’s the way you have to approach injuries. You go out there and you play and you commit 100% to everything because if you don’t commit 100%, the more likely something is going to happen to you – you’re going to be dominated in the physicality.”

O’Donnell has more experience than most of the mental and physical challenges that fighting back from injury poses and while he acknowledges that 2015 hit him hard initially, he actually feels a degree of fortune looking back now.

“The first few days at the time, I didn’t know if I was ever going to play again,” says O’Donnell.

“So to be able to get back, rehab and to be back on the field within 16 weeks – there were a lot more positives to play off there rather than thinking, ‘Oh, I missed out on a World Cup there.’

Tommy O'Donnell The Tipp man is back in Ireland's training squad. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It’s four years later and I’m still playing rugby. If you were to give me those two situations, I would much happier be in this situation here.”

Having sustained that shoulder injury back in January and been unable to fight his way back into the Munster team for the closing games of their season, O’Donnell hasn’t had an opportunity to impress Schmidt on the pitch in recent months, but the Ireland boss included him in an initial 44-man World Cup training squad back in May.

Opensides Dan Leavy and Sean O’Brien being ruled out of the World Cup has opened the window of opportunity for O’Donnell this summer and he has been training hard in the last six weeks in a bid to force Schmidt and his coaching staff to include him when they name their final 31.

He faces stiff competition in the back row, with Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander, Jack Conan, Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Jordi Murphy also in the current training squad, while second rows Tadhg Beirne and Iain Henderson could also cover the blindside flank.

O’Donnell feels it would be one of the highlights of his career to be named in Ireland’s World Cup squad, though his ambition doesn’t stop there.

“It would but then there would be so much more,” he explains.

“There’s players in here with massive ambitions so there’s a lot more to achieve. If I manage to achieve that and get on the plane, then it wouldn’t stop there. There would be much more to achieve.”

Tommy O’Donnell O'Donnell makes a tackle at Ireland training this week. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Ireland will indeed head to the tournament with strong ambitions of winning it, but there is plenty of water still to pass under the bridge before they even get to Japan.

O’Donnell – who rates a “pretty sick” rowing session in week one of pre-season as the least pleasant – is excited about getting a chance to make an impression on the pitch as he fights for that World Cup place.

“There are a lot of things that can happen in these four games. Even if you’re not top of the coaches’ thinking, you start to put in such a good performance that you start to change minds and change preconceptions.

“That’s what you want to do. You want to go out there and, of course, first and foremost get the win and then take what they’ve given us across pre-season and show that you’ve banked that knowledge and you can put it into practice.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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