herald

Tuesday 12 December 2017

O'Malley vows to measure up

Young centre has big boots to fill but feels ready to step up to plate

The standards set by Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy for centre play in Ireland makes it daunting for those who have to fill their boots at Leinster and, some time into the future, take over the mantle for Ireland.

The day is coming quicker than we can bear when these two giants of the game will have their talents shrunk by the passage of time. It will see them fade from the public eye into retirement.

Logically, the end of the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand could be the time for O'Driscoll, then 32, and D'Arcy, then 31, to reconsider their careers.

Like a once great heavyweight -- Muhammad Ali comes to mind -- it would be unbearable to witness the obvious decline of these world-class players. We will just have to trust they will know when the time is right to exit stage left.

Eventually, it will leave a vacuum for those queuing up in behind. At the moment, Eoin O'Malley is making his move to be the next great white hope, not that that is how he sees it.

"They are huge jerseys to fill. No doubt. It is hard. You can't really think about filling Brian O'Driscoll's jersey. He has done so much for Leinster, for Ireland, for The Lions," said O'Malley.



Skill

At first sight, O'Malley, 21, is a physically lighter version of O'Driscoll and D'Arcy at a time when most of the players at centre are growing bigger and stronger. He has always been one to trade on skill rather than size in amassing 10 Ireland U20 caps.

He is living in the fast lane of learning in the slipstream of O'Driscoll and D'Arcy: "You can't really be thinking about that sort of stuff. It doesn't really come into your head. The main thing is when you are there just try to do your best," he said.

"It would strike you more when you are off the pitch. When you are there, you are just chasing the ball more so than anything. My friends outside of rugby would ask me about it the whole time. You let it pass you by a small bit.

"You really do have to focus. There is a big game at the weekend. The whole thing is just trying to get involved in the team. If you do, you have to take your opportunity. If you start looking past that, it might just drift by you."

There is the hidden value of learning from a genius away from the spotlight of The RDS or Cardiff City stadium where he was unleashed to flummox Wales' Tom Shanklin and All Black Casey Laulala.

"At this time of the year, there is quite a big opportunity for guys like myself. It is great to be involved. It has been a good couple of weeks, thank God!

"It is difficult trying to get into the team. When you do get in, there are so many senior guys around to make the whole experience a bit easier, help you make decisions on the pitch and keep chatting to you," he said.

The road to paradise took a familiar route, from Belvedere College, to the Sub-Academy, into the Academy, a development contract and, finally, on to a senior contract.

Curiously, the graduation through the ranks could be seen as an end in itself. In reality, it is merely a ticket to the start of the show.

"I have had an injury for a year, a strange hip problem that was hard to diagnose.

"A bone was sticking out into my hip joint. It was wearing away. It was a complicated problem that I am not sure I understand after dealing with it for a year."

Now, the way is clear for O'Malley to put his best foot, or should that be hip, forward. He doesn't have to look too far to find evidence of the pathway to greater glory.

"Guys who have made the push through, like Kev (McLaughlin) or Sexto (Jonathan Sexton), have given encouragement. The injury was a worry. Once you deal with that, it is great."

O'Malley has earned experience from ten to thirteen, the latter apparently best suited to his future plans. There is more than a touch of Paddy Wallace about his physical make-up and rounded skills.

"You have to do your best to take your opportunities. The more flexibility you have, the better it is. Fergus (McFadden) is the same. He can play at thirteen as well."

The way is clear for O'Malley to show what he can do against Connacht on Saturday and, perhaps, against Munster in Thomond Park the following week. These are exciting times.

"There is great camaraderie in the whole squad from the older guys right down. There is so much to play for. There is huge motivation in the squad.

"It pushes you in the right direction. Talking to guys like Mal -- I don't know how long he has been here -- he says he has never seen it better in terms of camaraderie."

O'Malley may be one of the boys. In time, he could become the man!

Promoted articles

Entertainment News