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Tommy weighs up his return


Ireland's Tommy O'Donnell. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

Ireland's Tommy O'Donnell. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE


Ireland's Tommy O'Donnell. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

There is a difference between having a Six Nations medal in your back pocket and having it hang from the neck you put it on the line for Ireland.

When Ireland picked France's pocket at the Stade de France to claim the Six Nations Championship, Tommy O'Donnell was far from the madding crowd, watching the game with his girlfriend in Killarney.

It could have been him on the podium. He could have been there.

There was still the consolation of making his way back to the capital city to share in the celebrations he had a hand in creating.

"I was invited up to Dublin the following day so I was part of it and I had my medal," he said.

"I have a Six Nations medal in my back pocket, so I was delighted to be involved. It was a great experience and I used that coming into this year."

Last Saturday, the Munster flanker knew there was something afoot when he came across Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.

"I was walking down the corridor and basically bumped into Joe," he said.

Chris Henry had been struck down by a mystery illness. Rhys Ruddock was promoted into the number seven jersey. O'Donnell was on the bench.

"I didn't know what the situation was at that stage and he said, 'do you know your roles?' I said, 'I do', and he said, 'okay, be ready'.

"As the morning progressed, I found out I was going to be in so, yeah, it was definitely interesting.

"I probably had a great night's sleep on Friday because, do you know, there was no real stress on me. I was preparing to be standby."

The Tipperary man was all set to for regular international involvement from his Ireland debut against the USA in June 2013.

He was a man on the rise under Munster coach Rob Penney and Ireland interim boss Les Kiss.

It all stalled last season as O'Donnell struggled to reproduce the form that had taken him into the green jersey.

This stagnation happened just as Chris Henry grew into Seán O'Brien's shoes and Jordi Murphy began to motor for Leinster.

Okay, there was time off the bench against Scotland and Wales in the Six Nations. And then nothing.

"It was disappointing because I thought I'd played well when I'd come in," he said.

"Joe made the point, though, that he was picking Jordi as the form player at the time and it's hard to argue with that.

"You just have go away and work hard, get better, come back in and put your hand up again. That's what I concentrated on doing."

And work hard he has.

"I just went back, took the summer break and used that as a new starting point, use it as a refreshing point.

"I just went back to work on a lot of the basics, upped my work-rate and the intensity that I take to the game.

"There were a lot of things around my defence, chop tackling, being a nuisance and just basically having more of an impact on the game, which is what I've really tried to do and I suppose it's been working so far."

There has also been a shaving of weight.

He has trimmed off four kilos to hit the weighing scales at 104 kilos -or just under 16ƒ stone in old money.

"I definitely feel my fitness has gotten better. I went away, dropped a few kilos, got my body fat down and just worked hard," he said.

"That has been a real motivator, just to be fitter and to be able to last out games and be that 80-minute player.

"It's been working. I've played nearly all games for Munster and nearly finished them out to the end so I'm happy with how my fitness is and I think I can keep driving it on."


The next step is to start again for Ireland. Sooner rather than later.

"There's no point looking back and there's no point looking forward.

"Georgia may be a tier-two nation but they play with a hell of a lot of pride and passion.

"They've got some great players playing in top French leagues, so they're going to bring a lot of intensity and physicality."