Tuesday 12 December 2017

Eoin's hungry for full Irish

Sample of Six Nations whets O'Malley's appetite but Scarlets next on his plate

Eoin O'Malley has learned enough about the game to know that the longest journeys start with the smallest of steps.

The Dubliner has had to bide his time in recent years because of a series of injuries which restricted his advancement, but since regaining full fitness last year he hasn't looked back.

As it stands, he has already matched his try scoring and appearances tally from last season (three tries in 17 games). And the 23-year-old, whose impressive form in the PRO12 and Heineken Cup so far this term earned him a call up to Ireland's Six Nations squad in recent weeks, is determined to push on and improve.

And the hard work starts again tonight when the Scarlets visit the RDS. Though O'Malley was not in Ireland's official 22 for the opening round defeat by Wales or the cancelled game in Paris last week, he did play a role with the match-day squad on both weekends, gaining hands-on experience in the preparation and soaking it all in.

As he reflected ahead of tonight's game, it was another small step in the right direction.

"We're lucky that here in Leinster we're involved in an extremely professional set-up" he said. "I've been involved in training with a few Ireland squads before, over the last few seasons, but it's a huge honour to train alongside the best players in the country and it's a real test at training.

"Being involved on the pitch in the warm-up for the Welsh game was a real buzz. Even leaving the Shelbourne Hotel that morning with the supporters cheering the boys on to the team bus was a thrill. Hopefully those experiences will stand to me and the plan is to try and keep going in the right direction."

O'Malley was an interested spectator in the RDS eight days ago, as a youthful looking side secured a bonus-point victory over Benetton Treviso. With a wry smile he cites the impact of debutants Collie O'Shea and Brendan Macken.

Two more products of the Leinster Academy? "And two more centres," he notes with an air of pride-cum-wariness. "I thought that Collie and Mack stood out, but there were others too. Darren Hudson did well on the wing, Tom (Sexton) and Coones (John Cooney) made an impact coming off the bench. It just goes to show the kind of culture that we're building here when players -- the majority of whom have been in impressive form for the B&I Cup side -- can seamlessly, so it seems, go up another level. From a club point of view it's great that the guys are continuing the hard work that has gone on up to this point and taking their chances.

"They're continuing the good form over the last few months and adding their own individual impact, which will only add to the competition in the squad and make it tough for guys to try and get back in the team.

"It was wet out there and the ball was quite greasy, which was probably the reason why we dropped so much ball early on.

"But when we became that bit more fluent the ball began to stick in fellas' hands and we were flying towards the end of the game. You could see the pride in the lads faces after the game in the dressing room and what that win meant to the whole squad. On one hand it's nice to know that they have the capability to continue our good form, but the guys who are away with Ireland also know that they will have to work hard to get back into the team."

Springtime is traditionally a crunch period in the schools' calendar with the Junior and Senior Cup competitions in full swing.

O'Malley -- who helped Belvedere College SJ bridge a 33-year gap between Senior Cup trophies in 2005, in a team which included provincial colleague Cian Healy as well as Munster's Ian Keatley and Connacht's Paul O'Donohoe -- knows more than most the value of the schools' system, which supplements the Youth system in terms of introducing youngsters to the game.

"It's only as you get older that you realise the amount of work that actually goes on in schools and you'd have to credit the teachers and coaches there for encouraging us in the first instance," he said.

"If you were fortunate enough you were then identified by Collie (McEntee) and Richie Murphy and brought into the sub-academy and then the academy. But the process begins at underage level and, for me personally, Belvedere certainly helped the transition into professionalism. By the time you were brought into Leinster the sound structure in place meant that all you had to do was turn up and be prepared to work hard."

Fear of failure, O'Malley asserts, is a powerful motivational tool for the squad as they look to maintain their recent winning run.

"And that adds pressure, because you don't want to be part of a team that loses that record. I played in the team that lost the home game to Glasgow earlier this season and that memory definitely still haunts me -- but it also builds confidence. The results that you gain at this time of year can mean an awful lot come May, so everyone's focused and motivated."

The journey continues.

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