Jack O’Sullivan working out the pros and cons of full-time rugby
Talented backrow more than happy to bide his time All-Ireland League with Lansdowne
Lansdowne’s Jack O’Sullivan tackles Garryowen’s Andrew O’Byrne during the Ulster Bank League Division 1A semi-final at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Jack O’Sullivan has twice dipped a toe in the world of professional rugby but for now has prioritised completing a Business & Management degree in the Dublin Business School. He’s in year two of three.
At 19 he travelled for a two-week trial with Saracens but couldn’t wait to return, homesick and unsure. He hadn’t played Irish Schools, got one match for the Leinster U-19s and was cut from the U-20 squad. When weighed against others in that environment the former Castleknock College backrow forward felt that his CV was a little underwhelming.
After excelling for Lansdowne U-20s, he got a few games for the first team before an ankle reconstruction effectively ended his season. Last season was his first full campaign for the club and he proved a standout player as Lansdowne won the Leinster League, Leinster Senior Cup, the All-Ireland Cup and the AIL Division 1A title. His form was recognised in selection for the Irish Universities team and this led inadvertently to a second opportunity to experience the professional rugby culture.
O’Sullivan takes up the story: “Basically, I was meant to go to Cardiff Blues initially. I had organised that myself. The analyst in Lansdowne, the guy who does the camera work, we made a clip and I went and sourced email addresses for coaches and sent it out myself.
“I spoke to people like Bernard Jackman [Dragons coach]. I got an email from Clive Jones [\Cardiff coach] who said we are really interested in your clips, can you send us more? I was looking at a five-month probationary period but unfortunately that didn’t materialise.
“I played for the Irish Universities on the back of a bit of form in the AIL. Dave O’Mahony was the coach and he is close [to] Dec [Kidney]. I met Dave one night and filled him in on what happened with the Cardiff Blues deal. He asked me would I be interested in going to London Irish. I told him that every club in England that I had spoken to had told me that English qualification [he is not qualified on that basis] was holding me back. Dave said: ‘I can talk to Declan but I am not promising anything’.
“It was the day of the Dublin Sevens and I was on my way with a car full of lads. I got a phone call at about 7.45am and Declan Kidney was on the line. He said, ‘I will be in Dublin for an hour, and I can spare you 20 minutes. Can you meet me?’
“I had to drop the lads, turn the car around and go back across the city. He hadn’t seen a huge amount of me and was taking a risk in bringing me over there.
“It was his reputation on the line in [taking a chance on me]. Between us we came to a fair agreement and I don’t think he was too ashamed of how I did over the summer. I thought I was there or there abouts but I just didn’t feel it was my time. I think I would get more benefit from playing week in, week out in the AIL than maybe stuck in a gym over there for the winter.”
O’Sullivan had played against Munster and the Leicester Tigers in pre-season friendlies but education provided the stronger pull. Relegation from the Gallagher Premiership last season means that London Irish play in the Championship, where they have made an unbeaten start to the season, under the direction of Kidney and Les Kiss.
His decision to return home meant that O’Sullivan didn’t play any competitive fixtures for the Exiles but he did experience a full pre-season in a professional environment and is perfectly placed to make a comparison with the standard of AIL Division 1A rugby.
“We are blessed in Lansdowne. It’s a bit clichéd at this stage going on about Mike [Ruddock, Lansdowne head coach], but Mike is meticulous in the way he organises sessions and approaches matches. It wasn’t a huge surprise [at London Irish] in terms of the content that you would cover in training.
“I found that you had a lot more time to analyse things and obviously the pace of the game increases marginally. To be honest between the hit out against Munster and the [AIL] final back here in May there wouldn’t have been a huge difference in terms of prep, the physicality and the pace. Division 1A is a great stepping stone for guys to [push] through because you are playing against pros week in, week out. It’s not a huge difference.
“I have played games [for Lansdowne in the Leinster League] since I got back. Being in a professional environment, you are learning, working with guys who have been around the block and I have definitely improved and bulked up as a player. Obviously I am looking to use that to establish myself as one of the better players in the league.”
So would he consider a future in the professional game?
“The summer definitely showed me that I am capable of doing it and that any guy out there [AIL] is not that far off the pace. I have a few other things I need to concentrate on. I need to get that degree, first and foremost. On the pitch it’s about staying fit, developing as a player and contributing to the team.”
That’s starts on Friday night at Castle Avenue as Lansdowne begin the defence of the title against Clontarf (8pm). If O’Sullivan continues in the same vein as last season those opportunities may come around again.