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Saturday 23 September 2017

Blues show must go on

O'Malley's determined to make amends in push for League title

Experience counts for more than tries and caps. In a sportsman's life, it's often the knocks you take off the field and the questions that are asked on the treatment table that can generate the most impressive answers.

With Eoin O'Malley, the tender years and slender match experience, which totals seven appearances this season, masks the practical experience he has accrued during his Leinster career. Since making his debut for the senior squad last December, he has caught the eye with a string of combustible performances in the Leinster midfield.

His powerful leg drives are reminiscent of a young Gordon D'Arcy, his directness prompting more than several eye-catching incursions in opponent's minds. And though the last two league outings haven't reaped the kind of results the squad would have expected, O'Malley impressed in both away outings, prompting his selection to the replacements panel for last weekend's Heineken Cup semi-final in Toulouse.

His memories from France, alas, are tinged largely with regret. Though he savoured his first European assignment, the impact of the scoreline lingered into the early days of the week. It was, he admits, a bitter pill to swallow.

"Having been on the sidelines for the first part of my career, the one thing I've learned is you've got to make the most of any opportunities that come around," the 21-year-old reflected ahead of Sunday's visit of Edinburgh for the final round of Magners League outings.

"So while there are a lot of guys carrying knocks after a long season, I'm dying to play. Put it this way, the end of the season can drag out as long as possible as far as I'm concerned. Everyone's hungry to achieve a home semi-final for the supporters, particularly after the disappointment of Toulouse. While it was great to be involved in the squad, it was such a disappointing feeling at the end of the game for everyone involved; the players, the supporters, coaches, families, etc.

"I looked around the changing-room afterwards and to see players like Brian (O'Driscoll) and Mal (O'Kelly) and all that they have achieved in their careers. They are just two examples of a number of players who have given so much to Leinster over the years, so many highs and lows. As a young player the biggest thing you can take from their experiences in the game is to take the most out of every day; every training session and every match.

"To lose at the semi-final stage is hard, but we still have a lot to play for this season. We've been on top of the league for a while so we can't let our standards dip now. We are determined to continue our good standing."

To put O'Malley's impressive ascent into context this season, he had spent his formative years sidelined because of a recurring hip problem which permeated into groin injuries.

He credits the professional care of the Leinster medical team with helping him through the dark days and he stresses that achieving small short-term goals enabled him to complete the road to recovery.

"There was a time when the outlook was quite grim because it was hard to pinpoint the exact cause of the hip problem. I'm fortunate that my family and friends kept me positive and my father Kevin's experience in the medical industry meant that I also had another outlet to get reassurance from, as well as all the Leinster medical staff who have been superb from start to finish.

"They always stayed positive and were supportive to me and I always felt that I was in good hands and even though it dragged out a bit. Thankfully, touch wood, things are looking better now."

There's an interesting historical connection to O'Malley's family tree. His late grandmother's father (on his father's side) was Kevin O'Higgins, a leading figure in the nationalist movement and a founding member of An Garda Síochána. Among other notable achievements, O'Higgins enforced law and order as Minister for Justice of the Free State in the aftermath of the Irish Civil War. He was murdered in 1927 at the age of 35 by dissident republicans in retaliation for the execution of Anti-Treaty prisoners during the Civil War. His brother Thomas F. O'Higgins and nephews Tom O'Higgins and Michael O'Higgins were later elected TDs thus helping to spawn a significant dynasty in Irish politics.

"Growing up I probably didn't realise the effect my great grandfather played in the early years of the state. I'm very proud of the role he played, but it's a little strange reading about the time he lived in and the huge social unrest of that period in history. It's an interesting footnote in our family tree alright."

History may give him a sense of perspective, but for now he's concentrating on the immediate future, most notably the visit of Edinburgh to the RDS on Sunday.

Motivation, the former Belvedere College Senior Cup winner insists, won't be an issue and with the burgeoning talents in the Academy making serious impressions it has helped add an even greater competitive edge to training.

"Edinburgh have always been a tough team and they come here with nothing to lose," he says. "They're a top quality side who travel to Dublin without any fear. We have great respect for them and it's up to us to put the disappointment of Toulouse behind us.

"To have a big game to take your mind off the disappointment is exactly the kind of challenge we want this week. Although it wasn't nice to lose to Glasgow, there was such a feeling of pride afterwards, which is strange because that's not going to happen too often in your career.

"There's a nice carrot for the younger players to do well because good form is rewarded with selection and we're all aware of the responsibility to maintain a high standard every time we pull on a blue shirt.

"None of us know how many more games we're going to play this season, so we have to take our chances. It's great that we'll potentially be involved for at least another two weeks and it's up to us to make sure that we have three more weekends to look forward to right up until the last weekend in May."

To the naked eye, he's a man playing catch up. And he has no ambition to relent.

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