Spare a thought for Tommy O'Donnell
on the eve of England v Ireland on the day that Joe Schmidt has named his 32-man squad for the summer tour of South Africa. Despite the fact that both Sean O'Brien and Josh van der Flier are not travelling south this summer due to injury, O'Donnell was not called up for duty by Schmidt.
It's more of the same for TOD. The Tipp flanker has had the word 'unlucky' affixed to his name after suffering crippling injuries and yo-yo-ing in and out of the Ireland team the past three years. And after important contributions to Ireland's two 2016 Six Nations disappointing results, he has again been axed from the Ireland matchday team by Joe Schmidt. O'Donnell has become a bit of a Willy Loman character, a hard-working player who seems punished for a lack of flashiness or versatility, although it's difficult to remember him doing much wrong.
Is Tommy O'Donnell the unluckiest player in Irish rugby? Either injured or dropped seemingly no matter how well he plays.
— Matt Cooper (@cooper_m) February 25, 2016
O'Donnell broke into the Ireland team just as Schmidt took over and their destinies are somewhat linked. We hereby present the entire history of Tommy O'Donnell being dropped by Joe Schmidt.
2014 Six Nations
Tommy O'Donnell won his first cap under Joe Schmidt in Ireland's 28-6 win over Scotland at the Aviva, coming on for Peter O'Mahony after 65 minutes. Six days later, O'Donnell was again brought on as a sub, this time for an injured Dan Tuohy, who had been brought on for Paul O'Connell. O'Donnell then dropped out of the Ireland 23-man squad for the England game, with the more versatile Jordi Murphy replacing him. Schmidt clearly preferred what Murphy brought to the team as an impact sub, as O'Donnell would not make another experience in the 2014 Six Nations.
2015 Six Nations
O'Donnell's role in Schmidt's team would increase substantially in the 2015 Six Nations, but still, he was on the receiving end of baffling treatment by his coach. O'Donnell started Ireland's curtain-raiser in Rome at #7 and proved he is more than just a hard-working backrow when he scored one of Ireland's best tries of that year's Six Nations against a tiring Italian defense.
O'Donnell played 80 minutes in that game, and earned the plaudits of pundits, but was again 'unlucky' to drop out of the matchday 23 for France at home, as Sean O'Brien returned to the starting XV and Jordi Murphy taking his place his place in the 23.
O'Donnell would find himself back in the Ireland squad for Ireland's next game against England, after Pascal Pape tried to assassinate Jamie Heaslip's back. Murphy started for Heaslip and O'Donnell taking the #20 jersey but would end up playing 55 minutes after Sean O'Brien injured his shoulder in the first half. O'Donnell made 13 tackles and his performance was lauded, as he won an 8 in the Irish Times player ratings and a 7 in the Indo.
By the time the Wales fixture rolled around two weeks later, Heaslip and O'Brien were fit again, which meant Jordi Murphy was sent to the bench and Tommy O'Donnell was surplus to requirements. O'Donnell would not make the bench for the Ireland-Scotland game, though his overall contribution for Ireland's eventual 2015 Six Nations was clearly massive.
2016 Six Nations
After recuperating from a catastrophic injury that ruled him out of the World Cup, O'Donnell played himself back into contention for the Ireland team. Things looked surprisingly promising for O'Donnell, as Jordi Murphy's form had fallen off a cliff, Chris Henry was looking at an extended period on the sideline, and Sean O'Brien was injured again. Amazingly, given the extent of his injury in August, O'Donnell was named to start in Ireland's opener against Wales. O'Donnell played 48 minutes before being subbed off for Rhys Ruddock because of a concussion. O'Donnell was again praised by the presspack for another 'workmanlike' performance. He earned an 8 from the Telegraph and a 7 from the Irish Times.
Sean O'Brien was back for the brutal France game with O'Donnell keeping his place in the 23. O'Brien would go off after 19 minutes, and O'Donnell again replaced him. The Indo said he 'picked up where he left off' and gave him a 7. O'Brien was ruled out of the Six Nations but rather than start against England in Twickenham, O'Donnell dropped out of the Ireland team entirely, with Josh van der Flierearning his his first cap and Rhys Ruddock providing cover on the bench.
Schmidt stayed with van der Flier at #7 for Ireland's hammering of Italy at the Aviva, and O'Donnell did not earn a place on the bench. Not surprisingly, then, O'Donnell was chosen to start against Scotland in Ireland's final Six Nations fixture. O'Donnell played 68 minutes and made 11 tackles as part of a revved-up Irish backrow. The Irish Times gave him a 6, as did the Irish Independent, however they noted ominously 'the performance was not to his usual standard'.
2016 South African Tour
Despite injuries to Sean O'Brien and Josh van der Flier, Joe Schmidt did not name O'Donnell in the travelling 32-man squad to play the Springboks in June. Instead, Schmidt opted for the uncapped 27-year-old New Zealand-born flanker Sean Reidy. Schmidt, ever conservative, has chosen to head into the Test series without a capped specialised #7 rather than bring TOD south. O'Donnell has been a rock for Munster this spring but he only played 7 minutes in Munster's win over Scarlets on the last game of the year, so maybe there were injury anxieties. He is getting married this summer and he had a number of concussions over the summer. Perhaps that explains it.
Or perhaps, yet again, Tommy O'Donnell has found himself dropped by Joe Schmidt for reasons that punters cannot fully discern.