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Penney: Donncha Still Has A Lot Left In The Tank

Penney: Donncha Still Has A Lot Left In The Tank

Donncha O’Callaghan is in line to make a landmark appearance for Munster at Musgrave Park on Saturday night that may never be surpassed.

If Donncha O’Callaghan enters the fray in a Munster jersey for the 241st time against Zebre, he will move ahead of Ronan O’Gara and become the most-capped Munster player of all time.

It is an incredible achievement for the Corkman who turns 35 in just under six weeks’ time and is showing no sign of hanging up his boots – he signed a two-year contract extension before Christmas that will keep him in red until at least 2016.

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O’Callaghan made his first start for Munster in August 1998 against Edinburgh Reivers at Musgrave Park and it would be quite fitting if he breaks the appearance record almost 16 years later at the same Cork venue.

The achievement is made all the more remarkable by the fact that there were far fewer fixtures at the outset of his career with the Celtic League not forming until 2001.

The Heineken Cup is the competition where O’Callaghan has enjoyed his finest hours as he played a pivotal role as Munster twice became the kings of Europe with the lock starting both finals.

His Heineken Cup debut came as a replacement against Perpignan in 1998 and he has since played in a further 93 games to lie fourth on the list of all-time most-capped players in the competition.

O’Gara remains top of that particular list with 110 appearances, another former Munster man, John Hayes, is second with Leinster’s Gordon D’Arcy in third.

With the landmark record appearance looming, Munster head coach Rob Penney gave a glowing endorsement of the veteran forward.

“It’s a great achievement for Donncha. One great man (O’Gara) being replaced by another great man in the record books, which is what happens. Donncha deserves every plaudit and superlative that you can dish out to him,” he said.

“He’s been such a great professional for such a long time and he still has a lot left in the tank yet.

“He’s a pretty special athlete and he has a great mentality. I can’t speak highly enough about the man and his commitment to Munster.”

There is no sign of the light dimming on the career of O’Callaghan, in fact if anything it is getting stronger.

No Munster player has played in more games for the side this season – O’Callaghan has made 18 appearances out of a possible 19 – leaving him level with prop Dave Kilcoyne – and that is not including appearances in both of the province’s pre-season friendlies.

Apart from his continuing contribution to Munster Rugby, O’Callaghan has also earned 94 Ireland caps in an international career that has, so far, spanned 11 years since his debut away to Wales in the 2003 Six Nations.

Add that to the 12 appearances for the British & Irish Lions, including three Tests – two against New Zealand in 2005 and one against South Africa in 2009 – and you have a CV that would stand up against any other in world rugby.

Munster face Zebre at Musgrave Park on Saturday, with the game getting underway at 6.45pm. Tickets are available to buy online here.