Schmidt’s demanding regime keeps O’Halloran on his toes
Connacht fullback has found intensity of Ireland set-up quite daunting
Tiernan O’Halloran: “The training sessions have been at such a high level of intensity that sometimes at your province it’s not at that level either. Every skill, every pass, has to be right on the money.” Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho
As well as this tour being an eye-opener for the coaching staff, the same is true for some of the players. Having made a brief debut for his country off the bench in last Saturday’s second Test, Tiernan O’Halloran freely concedes his first experience of working with Joe Schmidt’s Irish squad has been a somewhat daunting experience.
O’Halloran had trained with the Ireland squad under Declan Kidney back in 2012, but this was an altogether different squad and environment from anything he experienced before, and he also admits it’s been quite a step up after his free-running and free-scoring season with Connacht.
“It was pretty intense in those two days at the Aviva. We’d a tough training session on the Wednesday up there as well. It was a lot of information. I had to spend a lot of time at the computers trying to learn it all. I did get things wrong and you do get in trouble for it as well. It’s an intense environment, but I like to put myself in that situation and it will make me a better player as well.
“Even now, two-and-a-half weeks into camp, I’m still trying to learn. It’s exciting, but you’re nervous all the time as well; you’re always on edge. But I’m hoping it will make me a better player as well.”
“Not just on the pitch, but in meetings you have to really, really concentrate on everything that’s going on because there is a lot of information,” he says, widening his eyes and staring as if at a screen.
“The training sessions have been at such a high level of intensity that sometimes at your province it’s not at that level either. Every skill, every pass, has to be right on the money.”
Ireland also play with “different systems” from Connacht, notably in the way the outside three cover the backfield, and in this regard O’Halloran says Jared Payne has been very helpful.
“Our back-field work is different and with Andy Farrell as well, he’s made a big difference with our back-field work. Completely different.
“So learning that was a lot different to what I’m used to and I got lost a couple of times in training with it and you just have to do some video work, sit down with Jared and Faz and try to sort that out. It took me a while to get it but thankfully the last couple of weeks or so I’ve got the hang of it.”
Though disappointed not to be included in the original 32-man squad – Schmidt informed O’Halloran of his reasons as well as putting him on standby – he had the not-so-minor distraction of Connacht’s Pro12 final against Leinster.
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O’Halloran had to re-arrange a planned holiday with his girlfriend Dana to Mauritius, but he had intended to pack his boots anyway.
“There was a mix of emotions at the time. I was very nervous and had a lot to learn. I’d a lot of plays. It was my first time to be in camp with Joe and I’d to learn everything from scratch. It wasn’t just learning fullback, it was the wing and a couple of other positions.
“But it was exciting as well, for my family and friends too. It was a big week after the final and getting called in. It was a lot of emotion, but I had to channel it and get myself ready for a big three weeks over here.”
His father, Aidan, a former All-Ireland football winner with Offaly who also had a long rugby-playing career and has been president of the Connacht Branch, was at Ellis Park last Saturday to witness his son’s Test debut.
“He’s here for the three weeks, enjoying himself, off doing safaris and stuff, with Trevor Brennan Tours.”
All the signs are that at the very least O’Halloran will be involved again this Saturday, and perhaps for more than three minutes.
“That’s the way rugby is and I’ve been on the bench plenty of times before so you know how it works. It’s all about the ebb and flow of the games, [being] ready to go and maybe never called upon.
“I’m still hoping to get an opportunity [this weekend] and I suppose if I do get that opportunity I need to take it because it’s a tough environment up here and if you don’t you could fall down the pecking order again.”