Medical joker Tomás O’Leary happy to take his chance in France

Scrumhalf enjoying new adventure with Montpellier after being let go by Munster

Tomás O’Leary in European action against Leinster at the Stade Altrad on Sunday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Tomás O’Leary in European action against Leinster at the Stade Altrad on Sunday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

Tomás O’Leary only really had one option. The Grand Slam-winning Ireland scrumhalf is 33 now, collecting the last of 24 caps at Twickenham in 2012, so after Rassie Erasmus had a look in the early minutes of this season, before cutting him from Munster’s European roster, O’Leary knew it was time to go, again.

Montpellier were in the market after Benoît Paillaugue went for ankle and shoulder surgery. O’Leary is their medical joker, on a four-month contract, which saw him debut as a late replacement for Wallaby Nic White just as Leinster were pounding the French line late last Sunday afternoon.

“Mad week really,” he said before returning to his hotel room across the road from the Stade Altrad. “I knew I was coming over here last Friday, came last Saturday and then obviously Sunday I got news from the lads about Axel. Went back for the funeral so I didn’t really have a chance to settle. Yeah, really emotional week.

“Being back here, playing, at least there was a distraction after a tough few days.”

Not unlike O’Leary usurping Peter Stringer, the rise of Conor Murray curtailed O’Leary’s time at Munster. After a few years with London Irish he was brought home last season but the Erasmus plan did not include him.

Any feedback? “Little bit. He came in and I was involved in the first two games. Look, it was just a decision by him. I’ve no qualms with that. It’s his call.”

When Cathal Sheridan was recalled from club rugby O’Leary probably had an idea he could be fourth choice scrumhalf behind Duncan Williams and Murray.

“Not getting into the European squad at Munster, I just got frustrated, so I had a look to see if there was anything else out there.

“Fair dues to Munster, they let me go even with Cathal getting injured. They probably could have stood in my way. I appreciate that.

“It’s great to get back involved in European rugby and hopefully the Top 14 in the next few weeks.

“At this stage of my career the fact I was sitting on my ass back in Munster ... I just want to get back playing some rugby. That’s all I want to do, to contribute on the pitch. It’s good to come over here – total new experience. I’ll just enjoy it and see what happens.

“When I heard Montpellier were interested it was a no-brainer for me as I wasn’t getting much of a look-in back home. If I didn’t take this up I would have regretted it long term. Looking forward to the challenge.”

O’Leary’s wife Julie and son Jamie arrive this week when he hopes to have an apartment in the small Mediterranean city.

“It’s a lovely part of the world, fantastic team, won the Challenge Cup last season, so it’s great opportunity for me.”

The return journey to Dublin in January means it is probably not the last we witness of a sporting career that began as a serious Cork underage hurler, following in the footsteps of his father Seanie.

Firepower

Jamie Heaslip

Now, as the road nears its winding conclusion, he has landed any scrumhalf’s dream job – playing behind this Montpellier pack.

“Leinster did extremely well to come up with a bonus point. You have to applaud them for that. It might prove important.

“You can see the power we have in our side, the firepower is the difference between French rugby and in Ireland; the sheer size of some of the lads we are able to sign. Hopefully it will be good to be playing with them as opposed to against them for a bit.”

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