John O’Neill managed only one Heineken Cup appearance for Munster as a replacement prior to his late call up as a Final replacement for Anthony Horgan. Today he’s with the Irish squad in New Zealand
John O’Neill had his bags packed long before the call came from to tell him he was required on Ireland duty for this New Zealand trip. He was in his Cork home on the Monday night still licking his wounds from the disappointment of Cardiff when the phone rang and to his surprise it was Brian O’Brien asking if he could hook up with the Ireland squad
I had my bags packed all right but it was to go on holidays to Egypt for two weeks. I’d been looking forward to getting away particularly after the weekend that was in it but once the request was made there was no decision to be made really.
And so instead of a tour around the pyramids John O’Neill found himself on a tour to the Land of the Long White Cloud and the prospect of a first cap for his country.
I was naturally delighted to get called up and although I know I’m here because others had to cry off, it doesn’t matter. It’s an honour and so far I’ve enjoyed the whole atmosphere in the camp. Everyone has been very encouraging and have made me feel welcome. It’s different from the Munster set-up, just a different level really.
And the prospect of playing for Ireland ? Well it’s something that isn’t going to distract him. No, not at all. There are plenty ahead of me and that’s the reality. I’ll just work hard, learn all I can and see what happens. OK I’m in the squad and therefore could be called up but it would be silly to spend your time wondering about something that might not happen.
Two years ago there were those who believed that his form was leading him into the Irish set-up but an injury in the Heineken Cup in Musgrave Park ended that prospect and this season his role was confined to rare appearances in the red of Munster.
Things were going well for me until the injury and by the time I was fit again the places were battened down. So I suppose you could say that was bad luck. But then it took a freak accident to Anthony (Horgan) for me to get into the side for the Heineken final so that sorta balanced things out. Now luck has again worked in my favour and if I am called on, all I can give is my best.
A strong runner and hard hitter, O’Neill let no-one down in Cardiff and his abrasive style would certainly not be out of place in a country that thrives on that approach.