Tomás O’Leary says Munster will be all in for Pro14 final
Former Heineken Cup and Magners League winner confident ahead of Leinster showdown
Munster’s Tomas O’Leary runs onto the pitch before the 2010 Magners League semi-final. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Inside Munster there was never really any debate. They are seeking a first trophy in a decade against neighbours who have lorded it over them and have been greedily gobbling up silverware. So despite coming a week after the Six Nations and six days before a last 16 Champions Cup tie against mighty Toulouse, there could be no holding back.
“Full metal jacket,” as Tomás O’Leary puts it, reflecting the views of all the province’s former players who are desperate to see Munster win today.
“I don’t think they are even considering Europe, which is good. It’s about trying to get this title, trying to beat Leinster. Peter O’Mahony and Conor Murray will all be the better for a week after against Toulouse having played another full-on game.
“What better way of getting ready for a big European game than taking on Leinster with your full team? Just from chatting with a few of the lads, they want a title.”
Like all former Munster players from the years of bounty, O’Leary isn’t entirely out of the loop, and is as desperate as any supporter to see the current team claim a trophy.
As for his own day job, O’Leary has had a career change since last September, and is now teaching English and Geography in his old school CBC Cork. A year into a masters in secondary school education, he’s also coaching the school’s Bowen Shield (under-16 team) albeit they haven’t had any games yet.
As well as home rearing their two young boys, Jamie (five) and Alfie (18 months), in his native Cork, O’Leary and his wife Julie and have a watch company called Told & Co Designs.
“To be honest as an independent, small, family-run business, we’ve been really hit by the pandemic and we’re in a very saturated market, so we’re struggling at the moment.”
A part of the Irish side which reached the final of the 2004 under-21 World Cup, O’Leary broke into the first-team squad in the 2005-06 campaign. His timing was good. O’Leary was part of the 2006 and 2008 Heineken Cup-winning sides, and the Magners League triumphs of 2008-09 and 2010-11, as well as playing a vital part in Ireland’s 2009 Grand Slam.
“When I was in fifth year in school Munster were losing the Heineken Cup final to Northampton. Munster were chasing the Holy Grail and then in my first year in the senior set-up I was involved in the European Cup winning side.
“They were unbelievable years. We were used to success and it was expected, but just the buzz of playing with that team. You go through that team and they’re all legends of Munster rugby. They were special times and you look back on that and you feel pretty privileged to have experienced it.”
But for injuries, who knows how much more O’Leary might have achieved. Two nights after being named in the 2009 Lions squad, O’Leary cruelly suffered a fractured tibula and fibula, and dislocated his ankle, in a league game against the Scarlets.
“To miss out on that Lions tour was probably the worst, and it ended up being a great tour in ‘09. It would have been cool to experience that. But sure, look, that’s rugby.”
O’Leary admits he was “never quite the same player again” either, and the same can be said for Munster.
He moved on in 2012 to spend three seasons with London Irish because by then, through injuries, form and lack of game time, he was not enjoying his rugby, although he had another season back with Munster before finishing his career in Montpellier.
In the 2010-11 season a freak eye injury sustained while training with Ireland before a Six Nations game against England in March also effectively ruled him out of Munster’s Magners League final win over Leinster at Thomond Park.
A week after Leinster’s epic Heineken Cup final win over Northampton, Munster had to win that day.
“Similar to now the motivation was there for Munster. No matter how much you try to motivate yourself when you’re winning and you have more titles and success, like Leinster did at that time, you just don’t have that same bite or hunger.
“You can’t imagine Leinster have the same hunger as Munster have now for a title. You’d hope that the motivation and need that Munster have now to win will play a pivotal role.”
Reminded that Leinster have won nine of the last 10 meetings, including all of the last five, is “a pretty sobering statistic but while I know this is with my Munster hat on, they have to win at some stage and what better time than in final.”
In addition to Garry Ringrose being “a big loss for Leinster”, O’Leary has other reasons for genuine belief.
“I think Gavin Coombes has added a lot of bite to the backrow. He’s added a lot of carrying and tries, which might take a lot of pressure off CJ, and I don’t think you can ignore the effect of CJ’s departure, because you can see what he means to the lads in the Irish team.
“So you can double down on that, given how much he has contributed to Munster and how well liked he is. He’s just a sound, genuine guy and he’s given his all to the province. They’ll want to see him off with a title and he’ll want to leave Munster with a title.
“I think Murray coming back into form and (Joey) Carbery coming back into the team will give Munster control and the physicality of the two boys in midfield, (Damian) de Allende and (Chris) Farrell, can bring that bit of go-forward ball and create space for Earlsy (Keith Earls) and (Andrew) Conway on the wings, or come through the middle to pick up offloads.”
De Allende and Farrell potentially hold the key for O’Leary.
“De Allende was brought here for a reason, and that’s to win titles. He’s done it at a World Cup and I think he’ll be highly motivated for this, and Farrell will be as well, and we’re not going to be dependent on CJ carrying 20 balls to get over the gain line.
“Coombes and those two specimens give me hope that we can utilise the speed we have on the wings, because I guess that’s the area we’ve fallen short on in the past.
“I just have a little feeling that this, hopefully, might be the time for Munster to get over the line.”