O'Callaghan more than joker in pack


Here follows snippets from a 15-minute conversation with Donncha O'Callaghan. Self-christened the "prank monkey" from Munster but dig a little deeper and the hardest working man in Irish rugby is unearthed.

When questioning Munster PRO Pat Geraghty about how Brian Carney was settling into union after a career in rugby league at the end of last season he noted his "massive commitment levels. A work ethic on a par with Donncha."

For all the banter, O'Callaghan gets the job done.

The interview started all business.

"After the pre-season we've had with the Spala camps, the two trips to Poland, personally I don't think I've ever been in better physical condition coming into a season."

Stories about the Polish cryotherapy chambers have been filtering back home for years but explaining the benefit of such torture has proved difficult. O'Callaghan provided a unique insight into life on these sojourns to Spala.

"You are given an oul pair of socks, pair of boxers, a head band and mouth mask. It's minus 140 (degrees). You are in there for three minutes. They tell us if you did eight minutes you would die."

And then he wanders.

"If you are in there with Quinny (Alan Quinlan) you're singing It's a long way to Tipperary. There are a few games you can play to keep your mind off it. It's grand for the first minute of so (but then) the back of your knees start hurting.

"It depends on the fellas you are in there with. If you are in there with (John) Hayes it can be incredibly smelly. (Peter) Stringer? It can be incredibly roomy and enjoyable. You got to be very selective who you go into cryotherapy with. It's best off sticking with (Denis) Leamy as he just wants to get in and out.

"At the start of the week you are kind of saying 'this is a load of balls. It couldn't work.' But you just couldn't get through the amount of workload we've been getting through and still be able to get out the next day and do the same again."

Is there anything else to do in Spala?

"Nothing. It's really mentally tough. You're there for five days. You have to clue in. You're there for nothing else but conditioning. It's quite tough. Everyone goes through their moments of breaking point. You're just hoping to get him perfectly at that time, around a group of lads, and hammer him."

O'Callaghan doesn't even betray a smirk. Poker face. We battle on and he returns to a serious tone when explaining the levels of fitness Irish rugby players have now reached. How they know they can keep going at full throttle in the last 20 minutes of any game. Including a European Cup final.

The nucleus of this team has been on the road since 2000. Any Ulster, Munster or Leinster prejudice has long dissipated. Paul O'Connell spoke about how cliques no longer exist within the camp.

O'Callaghan was happy to elaborate on this bond.

"You got to remember we are living out of a gear bag. Living with guys for seven, eight weeks. We know at the moment when guys need their space and when you can have a bit of craic. The maturity of a squad now means we respect each other a bit more.

"I think it's maybe that we came through together. I played under-21s with Drico (Brian O'Driscoll) and (Shane) Horgan. Neil Best and Rory Best are good friends whereas before you might have had more of a provincial cap. I'm not saying we weren't before but as a group we are real tight at the moment.

"I think that comes from going through the disappointments of the autumn internationals two years when everyone was on our back."

Denis Leamy is next up for interview.

"He'll bore ye," whispers O'Callaghan.

Munster sign new deal

A €1.5 million three-year sponsorship deal (with a further €150,000 in training gear and clothing) between Munster and Adidas was announced yesterday writes Gavin Cummiskey.

Munster's new jersey will make its first appearance on a rugby field when Munster play the US Eagles in Chicago on August 26th.

The game is expected to be televised live by Setanta Sports.

The new shirts are available in the tight-fit playing version (€100) and a looser replica version (€65), which may prove more enticing to the less svelte members of the Red Army.

All the gear goes on sale on August 9th.