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O'Donoghue aiming for redemption

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Jack O'Donoghue

Jack O'Donoghue

SPORTSFILE

Jack O'Donoghue

Jack O'Donoghue's career was just igniting when everything he had worked so hard for was cruelly ripped from his grasp.

Playing Leinster in a PRO14 semi-final doesn't exactly bring back happy memories for any of the Munster players, but for O'Donoghue in particular, the nightmare of what unfolded for him personally in the 2018 defeat remains as vivid as ever.

After making an important cover tackle on James Ryan, O'Donoghue's leg got trapped in the ensuing breakdown and with a slew of bodies hammering in to clear out the ruck, the Waterford native couldn't free himself in time - as a result, his right knee buckled under the brute force.

The immediate pain was enough for him to know that he had suffered serious damage, but the shuddering 'pop' left him and the on-field doctor in no doubt that he had ruptured his ACL, as well as his MCL.

Nine months of tough rehab followed before O'Donoghue was able to pull on the red jersey again, which meant that he missed out on a potential recall for Ireland's summer tour to Australia.

With that also went any realistic hopes of forcing his way into the World Cup picture, but having fully recovered from the horror injury, O'Donoghue is looking as sharp as ever.

Now 26, the versatile back-row has very much become an important member of Munster's pack, and his influence at the Aviva Stadium this evening will be crucial.

Earning a recall to the starting XV is fully justified, and not just because of his impressive performance off the bench in the win over Connacht last weekend.

Johann van Graan has put his faith in O'Donoghue for plenty of big games during his tenure in charge, and the twice capped Ireland international has invariably delivered.

The likelihood is that he would have started against Leinster a fortnight ago, had he not picked up a head injury in training.

Tommy O'Donnell was unable to make his mark during that defeat, and while Chris Cloete was a nuisance around the breakdown against Connacht, the South African's discipline is questionable, which could prove costly in such a big game.

Having started out predominantly as a No 8, O'Donoghue has shifted across the back-row and with Peter O'Mahony an automatic choice at blindside, O'Donoghue has found himself occupying the No 7 jersey.

He may not be an out-and-out openside but he has won eight turnovers in his nine PRO14 starts this season. Munster head coach Johann van Graan will be looking for more of the same against a Leinster side, mindful of how effective Munster were at the breakdown two weeks ago.

O'Donoghue has proven that he is a powerful ball carrier, and it is no surprise that he has been selected to add some beef to the pack.

Leo Cullen's men thrive on quick, front-foot ball, so Munster's jackal threats of O'Mahony, CJ Stander, Tadhg Beirne and O'Donoghue all need big games.

O'Donoghue's ability to disrupt Leinster's maul will be key, as will the fact that he is an excellent option in the lineout - another area where Munster had the upper-hand in the recent meeting.

  • PRO14 League: Leinster v Munster, Live EirSport (7.35)