First choice scrum half for reigning Heineken Cup champions and current Magners League leaders Munster and this year’s Grand Slam-winning Ireland side, there was always a good chance of Tomas O’Leary featuring in the Lions squad to tour South Africa but Tuesday’s news still came as a welcome surprise for the player himself.
Holed away in a gym in Cork, receiving physiotherapy treatment ahead of Friday’s Magners League clash with the Scarlets, Tomas O’Leary was typically ‘at work’ when learning of his call-up to the British & Irish Lions squad.
O’Leary’s strong work ethic, honed first as a minor hurler with Cork and now in the professional arena with Munster and Ireland, has helped catapult him from an Ireland debut in May 2007 to Lions recognition just two years later.
Now recognised as an top quality Test scrum half, the 25-year-old is poised to enhance his reputation further on the hard grounds of South Africa – but Munster’s league and cup double bid is rightly of more pressing concern.
“It’s brilliant news for me and all the lads in the Munster squad – we’ve got a good contingent in the Lions,” he told TV3 Sport.
“There was no advance warning. I was just in the gym in Cork, doing a bit of training. We turned on Sky, there was a bit of a crowd around. I heard the name, there was a bit of relief and I was delighted obviously.
“It’s the ultimate goal and amibition of rugby players from these parts to get selected and play for the Lions. It’s a bit of dream alright.
“It’s a big bonus to get on the tour and hopefully it’ll go well for me.”
He added: “It’s a massive honour for Munster (to get eight players selected). But we’ve a lot to concentrate on for the next few weeks and the end of the season, and already Friday night is creeping up.
“Our focus will be on the Scarlets on Friday night. Obviously we’ve put ourselves in contention for the Magners League and Heineken Cup and we don’t want to let that drift by.”
Describing the prospect of playing for the Lions as a ‘huge honour and privilege’, O’Leary was asked if being selected for the Lions was in his mind when he approached the season and as the weeks and matches went by.
“I suppose it’s always in the back of your mind but you can never have it to the forefront of your mind, because obviously there’s a process where you have to play for Munster and Ireland and play well in all these games.
“If you don’t play well week by week, you’re not going to achieve anything long term. The old mantra, taking it game by game, stands true,” he admitted.
And the Corkman had a special mention for his Munster and Ireland team-mates Keith Earls and Alan Quinlan, who were two of the more unexpected inclusions in Ian McGeechan’s 37-man touring party.
“It’s well deserved for them. Quinny’s been in flying form the last few weeks and Earlsy has had a stormer of a season. They’re two great players and two great fellas to have in the camp definitely.”