Leinster’s centre Eoin O’Malley forced to retire aged 25
‘A freak accident. I’ve got hit worse and come away without a scratch’
Eoin O’Malley in action for Leinster against the Scarlets last season. Injury has forced him to call it a day at the age of 25. Photograph: Ryan byrne/Inph
Seen by those who know best as Brian O’Driscoll’s natural heir in both blue and green, the outstandingly talented centre Eoin O’Malley has announced his retirement from professional rugby.
He turned 25 in July.
O’Driscoll, among other team-mates, was moved to pay tribute not only to the player but the man yesterday on twitter: “Absolutely brutal to see Eoin O’Malley having to retire. Very clever player & a great man to have in your dressing room. #Massiveloss”.
The former Belvedere College student made 54 appearances for Leinster since 2009, although a long standing hip problem followed by ruptured cruciate knee ligament ultimately denied him full international honours.
Three showings for the Wolfhounds and 10 for the Ireland under-20s was enough to suggest this penetrative, natural number 13 would eventually collect a sackful of Test caps.
Last season’s Irish management clearly agreed, calling him up to the Six Nations camp despite a blatant lack of game time.
However, O’Malley’s return from the knee injury, sustained innocuously enough during the 2012 Pro 12 semi-final against the Ospreys, eventually halted the progress of an already injury-blighted career.
“Basically I got tackled and someone’s knee caught me the wrong way,” O’Malley told The Irish Times. “That was it. If he had caught me in a different way it probably would’ve been a bruise. A freak accident. I’ve got hit worse and come away without a scratch.”
O’Malley, in typically stubborn fashion, returned after a 10 month rehabilitation programme, playing five more times for Leinster this year but his explosive pace and mobility had been reduced by the malfunctioning knee. “It just never felt right on return.”
He didn’t give up there, travelling to the UK then New York for consultation and arthroscopy with renowned orthopaedic surgeon Stephen O’Brien.
“I am 25 now and it was very early to be giving up on something so I wanted to give it every possible chance of recovery.
“I had a lot of people – physiotherapists, the strength and conditioning coaches and the doctors – giving me as much time as it was going to take to come out the other side. I owe them a lot.
“People often refer to modern day sport as a ruthless and cut throat environment but Leinster did everything they could to help me with my recovery.
“I also spent a long, long time with Ray Moran out in Santry. Ray has been incredibly good to me and was probably as frustrated with it and emotionally into it as I was so he was keen for me to have someone else look at it. Just to try something at that stage. “Stephen O’Brien is highly respected with NBA and NFL players.”
And still, the miracle recovery is not going to happen. Although too few, there was several high water marks in this rugby life.
In 2005 O’Malley first came to prominence by playing a significant role in guiding Belvedere to their first Leinster schools senior cup for 33 years, alternating from centre to outhalf with Munster’s Ian Keatley in the defeat of Blackrock.
That special Belvedere side also included current professionals Cian Healy and Paul O’Donohoe.
O’Malley went on to represent Ireland schools and was at inside centre during the under-19s World Cup in Belfast, excelling in an Irish team that was mostly on the back foot.
His big leap as a senior professional came in December 2010 when filling in for the injured O’Driscoll in the daunting surrounds of Stade Marcel Michelin as Leinster captured a vital bonus point against ASM Clermont Auvergne.
O’Malley had a fine game, sustaining cracked ribs for his troubles having constantly stood tall as Clermont’s “Roro” (Horse), Aurélien Rourgerie, came crashing through midfield.
“Yeah, playing Clermont down there, in that stadium, against that team was a special occasion.”
Never the biggest of centres, at 5ft 11in and just over 14st, O’Malley was very much in the mould of the two players he understudied. You could see the influence of both O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy in the fearless manner he went about attacking and holding his own while defending against bigger men.
He was a genuine 13. Such a rarity in Irish rugby. Professional sport will always tell us these stories. Such is the perilous nature of rugby. A person like Eoin O’Malley will eventually shine in some other walk of life .