Emotional O’Gara may have played his last game for Munster
Rob Penney was giving nothing away about his star player’s future plans
Ronan O’Gara during the Heineken Cup semi-final against Clermont.
Donnacha Ryan gave him a big bear hug, and one by one the rest of his team-mates consoled him before he joined Paul O’Connell at the end of the line as they waited to clap Clermont off the pitch. The tears gave way to smiles as he took one of his kids, Rua, in his arms and waved to people in the crowd. Along with the ensuing waves, and lingering longest of the Munster players on the pitch, it had a valedictory look and feel to things.
If this was to be the final game of O’Gara’s stellar career as well as his season then it was more fitting that he bow out with, remarkably, a 10th Heineken Cup semi-final – he’ll hardly bow out in a meaningless end-of-season league game against Zebre. And while the win eluded Munster, certainly it was no fault of his, for just as fittingly, the 35-year-old had played beautifully.
He’s always had a rich array of skill sets and there having been no way through Clermont, despite his repertoire of long and short passes to launch those outside him, he had begun going over and behind them with pressure-generating kicks to within inches of the corner flag. Then cometh the hour and all that, for the high point of his performance had come in the 60th minute with that deliciously-weighted grubber for Denis Hurley.
It was not to be
Having tagged on the wide angled conversion to add to an unerring early penalty, one had visions of this competition’s most outstanding player being granted the last-ditch conversion to win the game, but it was not to be. Still, it had been some response to his Six Nations disappointments.
“Terrific,” was how Rob Penney described his outhalf’s performance. “He loves the big moments obviously and he’s been great for us since he’s come back from Ireland. He’s had a clear image of what he’s trying to achieve, and what he wants to do and he’s such a passionate Munster man. Yeah, terrific.” As to whether he’d like O’Gara to stay on, Penney said: “Look, Rog has got his own decisions to make. Of course, he’ll be a part of Munster rugby as long as he wants to be.”
Yes, he had discussed O’Gara’s future with him. “When I know you’ll know.”
For one of the younger brigade, who have made strides this season, and in the last month especially, O’Gara’s guidance and leadership must have been invaluable. “Where do you start?” said Felix Jones. “For me, personally, since I came to Munster, I’ve always looked up to him. His experience is just invaluable to any team and hopefully we’ll get a bit more out of him yet but let’s wait and see.”
“I suppose a lot of teams go through a period of hardship just before they make it,” added Jones, “but we’re under no assumption that just because we’ve had a poor year and we didn’t make the final this year, we’ll make the final next year.
“A lot of young players have come through,” said Tommy O’Donnell, “and lads are becoming more mature and we still have the likes of Paulie and Rog to lead us. The future is bright again, it is a really bright future.”