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'I’d Much Prefer To Be Remembered As A Class Dad Than A Good Rugby Player'

'I’d Much Prefer To Be Remembered As A Class Dad Than A Good Rugby Player'
By Gavin Cooney
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"We’re too busy for me to start considering myself", says Donncha O'Callaghan of his mindset as he enters the final few weeks of a twenty-year rugby career, which will be spent battling to stave off relegation for Worcester. "We are in a dogfight; I actually think it’s a great way to be. Everything matters. My performance matters. If I don’t play well, I’ll be left out".

Within a few minutes, such pleated effacement unfolds into the wider realisation that O'Callaghan has found time to think of just about everyone else.

With O'Callaghan counting down the remaining visits to the breach on his fingers, your correspondent predictably turns to notions of legacy and what the future will hold.

The main thing for me is priority, and my priority is my family. I need to be back around them more.

I’d much prefer to be remembered as a fucking class Dad than a good rugby player.

So I need to be around them more.

Jessie missed the support network and everything about home [they soon returned after initially moving to England in 2015], and Sophie was starting school.

What I’ve come to realise is what I thought were sacrifices on my end, at this stage of my life and where my family are at I've actually been selfish.  I need to be there for them now.

Look, I love rugby, but I love my family more….that sounds corny!

Twenty years on a rugby field distills a certain amount of perspective, but the lingering shadow of tragedy away from it affords more.


Speaking to O'Callaghan is fascinating; such his is honesty he can't help but offer insights into his own life even when he's talking about somebody else. In this instance, Keith Earls.

What's different about the winger who is currently seeing a nation's plaudits fall at his feet as often as the desperate, flailing defenders of others?

Nothing. 100%. Like myself and others in the last year or so, we’ve got more perspective on life and what’s important. Is it the end of the world if this game doesn’t go your way?

Before, an awful lot of us thought like that and were filled with doubt. But with all of the things that have gone on in the last two years, you realise what’s important.

Earlsy has got a beautiful balance in his life now with Edel, his wife, and his beautiful family. He knows where his priorities are. When it comes to rugby, I’m seeing nothing different to the 20-year-old who came into our squad when he first rocked up. We were seeing him every day, so it’s not a surprise to us.

Even back ten years ago, I remember coming back and just going to my friends outside rugby, 'wait until you see Keith Earls'. His teammates have been in awe of him for the last ten years ago. Now that the media and supporters are seeing more of him and seeing him in a different light - it’s no different to what we’ve been seeing over the last ten years.

I would like to think that he’s like a lot of players who have copped on to what’s important over the last year, and not be beating themselves up about what happens for 80 minutes on a Saturday.

He trains like a dog. He prehabs; he rehabs. Everyone thinks you’re scratching your arse when you’re off like that.

That guy does everything, including visualisation of those big moments. All the things he has done this Six Nations haven’t surprised me. Even tracking back to make that tackle in the Italian game – that’s built into his DNA. Like Jamie, Keith Earls gives his all every single game.

The Jamie in question, by the way, is Heaslip, whom O'Callaghan reckons has been underrated. In listing off Heaslip's silverware, O'Callaghan believes the tributes have omitted his greatest achievement.


"Nobody ever talks about what he did around the environment. Jamie came in and he knew he was a winner. The rest of us were hoping we could be. People might think that he came across as brash or arrogant, but that was him. It has led to the different type of Irish player we have now; the player who expects to win. The dressing room before him was hoping to win, and wanted to win, whereas he came in and said, ‘we’re going to win'. He had a mental edge in terms of how far he could push himself and a non-Irish mindset of backing himself. The rest of us say, ‘we’ll go out and give it a lash’, whereas he said, ‘No, I’m fucking well good enough’. He was the changing of the guard. I feel he hasn’t been getting enough credit. Ye might think it’s generic bollocks when players say they want to leave the jersey in a better place, but he raised the standards and they’ve become the norm".

The environment, to thieve a phrase, has developed to the extent that O'Callaghan believes the Irish squad is deep enough to absorb the loss of Heaslip at next year's World Cup. Exile in England has given O'Callaghan a keener impression that Ireland are "batting above our weight" at international level, given the paucity of the player pool in comparison to the nations Ireland have made a routine out of beating.


This is partly down to the culture bred by Heaslip and others, but O'Callaghan also concedes that "sometimes we don’t give enough credit to the structure that allows us all to dream of two games going our way to win a Grand Slam".

As for those two games, then. Can Ireland stave off the hype and expectation to deliver?

In these types of environment, you’re better off being in camp. Everyone outside is hyping it up and talking Grand Slam, but you wouldn’t have the cheek to mention it in camp because you’re so shitless about selection. Joe picks his team on a Tuesday or a Wednesday and your only concern is that you’re in it.

So the training session right in front of your nose is the most important thing.

With the number of training sessions and games in front of Callaghan's nose dwindling by the day, we dare look back once again. O'Callaghan reached 94 caps for Ireland, and didn't get to go out on his own terms having fallen between the naming of squads for November 2013 and Six Nations 2014. Ultimately, O'Callaghan felt the other side of the sword he and Heaslip helped to forge.

Any regrets?

No. Not at all. I promise you. That’s the way it’s got to be.

You’d love the fairytale end, but that rarely happens. You know in this environment that’s how it goes; there’s no sentiment for anyone.

I’ll be honest with you, I’d like to think I was one of those lads who created that environment, and when it spits you out, it fucks you out.
That’s the way it has to be. Not my end, I look back on it all with fondness.

You’d kill for one more go, and if you could play roulette and put it all on black to play one more….you definitely would.

It is one of sport's many curious ironies that its players are read the rights they've written.

Not that O'Callaghan will spend too long worrying about it.

There's work to do.

See Also: Harlequins Strike Gold In Intriguing Deal With All Blacks

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