Project Devin Toner built on high standards
Leinster secondrow sets sights on nailing provincial position and winning Irish caps
“When I was training with people my own age, I’m not going to say I wasn’t challenged, but I wasn’t aggressive really either, but on joining the senior squad you realise . . . I was 117 kilos then, I’m 124 now so I’ve put on a good bit. I realised you need to fling your body into rucks to move them. I wasn’t very effective at ruck time but now I try to use my weight.
“Without a doubt Leo has had the most influence on me. When he came back from Leicester he just changed the whole ethos. Hinesy as well did a lot for me. “He’s a c**t,” he adds very matter-of-factly yet with respect.
“You obviously love him when he’s in your team but he just loves niggling you. His offloading ability helped me realise I have to add to all aspects of my game.”
This summer in Toronto he sent McFadden scampering over for a try with a perfect execution of that very skill.
It took a while to get to where he is now. Bumped up to the Irish squad in November 2010, O’Connell was injured, he started against Samoa before coming off the bench for the New Zealand shellacking and Argentina victory.
In Houston in June he made his bones. Having survived some dodgy opening lineouts, by calling everything on himself thereafter, and a Todd Clever spear tackle, he soared above everyone to claim Chris Wyles’ late 22 drop-out.
That moment ensured Ireland’s most inexperienced team in over 50 years sneaked home 15-12.
Another game he remembers as significant in his progress was back on October 18th, 2008. The RDS Showgrounds: Leinster 41-11 Wasps.
“When Drico got that wonder try.”
When he kicked it over Jeremy Staunton?
“Yeah. Leo had come off injured in the first 10 minutes so I came on and played pretty well. I was involved quite a bit after that.”
Toner entered the fray like every Irish man should against English opponents, even getting the yellow badge of honour in the closing stages.
But it was the tail end of last season when he showed just how influential he can become.
“My personal goals? Get a couple of more caps for Ireland. I want to nail down a starting role in Leinster. So far I have been doing that. Everyone’s goals really.”
Difference is not everyone realises them.