Monday 18 December 2017

Tommy primed to make Ireland impact

O'Donnell is ready to take his chance behind O'Brien

Munster’s Tommy O’Donnell in action against Benetton Treviso at the. Stadio Comunale di Monigo, Treviso, Italy last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile
Munster’s Tommy O’Donnell in action against Benetton Treviso at the. Stadio Comunale di Monigo, Treviso, Italy last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile
Irish players Devin Toner (c), Tommy O’Donnell (r) and Rob Herring were on hand in Carton House yesterday as Ulster Bank announced the extension of their partnership with the IRFU. The bank has supported club rugby at a community level for the past six years, investing in a number of helpful initiatives including providing over €160,000 in funding through their RugbyForce programme. Ulster Bank will continue as title sponsors of the All-Ireland League until 2018. Photo: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Tommy O'Donnell must have been more pensive than most at the campaign for Seán O'Brien to be anointed the next Ireland captain.

When Dylan Hartley was confirmed this week as Eddie Jones' captain, the shoulders of the other England hookers Saracen Jamie George and Exeter Chief Luke Cowan-Dickie must have sagged.

In the same way, the Munster man would have been discommoded by knowing O'Brien would be the first name on Joe Schmidt's sheet.

"Well, if he was selected captain there would obviously have been a reason," said O'Donnell.

"He is a leader, he's a fantastic player so, if he was selected captain, you just go about it the same way."

As it happened, Ireland's first choice hooker Rory Best was the chosen son to lead Ireland into the Six Nations to the unspoken chagrin of Richardt Strauss, Rob Herring and Seán Cronin.

The number seven shirt is still up for grabs, in theory at least.

The increased occurrence of injury to O'Brien places the demand on O'Donnell to be ready to step in as he did last February when making a try-scoring impact on foot of O'Brien's late withdrawal against Italy.

"Similar to last year, if you're on the bench, if you're reserve and are called in at the last minute you slot into that role and give everything to the team and that's the best way to give to the team," he reasoned.

"My mental resolve is all about me preparing myself the best I can and let selection and performances go their way after that."

Certainly, O'Donnell has had to adapt and overcome as recently as last September when his dislocated hip ruined a World Cup dream.

"I made peace with it very quickly," he offered.

"I think it comes from how we should be as players.

"If you make a mistake in a match then you need to move on with it.

"If something happens like that, a big moment or an injury, you need to move on with it.

"If you dwell on the past then you're going to be stuck there."

It wasn't that long ago that the sceptics were mourning the passing of David Wallace's career long and deep in Munster.

"Everyone was asking where the players were going to come from," he recalled.

"At that stage, people were probably saying that I wasn't ever going to be an international standard or wasn't good enough."

The Tipperary flanker comes from the class of player who has taken the long road, shown patience, never left for Connacht and never wavered in his self-belief.

It is this deeply held opinion that allows him to see beyond the direct and immediate impact of the loss of Keith Earls to Munster and the possible departure of Simon Zebo.

O'Donnell prefers to evaluate each exit on a case-by-case basis, not as a dark reflection of where Munster are at present.

"It is individual circumstances," he said.

"Coming from Munster, I think we're very collective.

"We've actually come together over the last couple of weeks from the pressure a few voices were putting on us.

"You find you do come together in those times. Hopefully, we've grown from it and we'll be better for it."

The loss of Ireland internationals to England or France leads to the growth in game time of those coming up behind them, all the time widening the selection base, even though there is a loss of control over the exported player's long-term fitness.

"The players in the Irish ranks are there and sometimes they just need the chance, they just need the game time," he said.

"I think Josh van der Flier is a great example this year of what young players can do with game time and how they can thrive.

"If a key player moves on, the talent is there in the Irish pool that it will be filled."

O'Donnell was once there.

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