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‘Building On Last Year Is The Plan’ – Lansdowne’s O’Sullivan

‘Building On Last Year Is The Plan’ – Lansdowne’s O’Sullivan

Versatile back rower Jack O’Sullivan hopes Lansdowne have absorbed the lessons of the past as they prepare to mount their defence of the All-Ireland League title against Clontarf at Castle Avenue on Friday night (kick-off 8pm).

Prior to securing league honours in May – a thrilling final success over Cork Constitution at the Aviva StadiumMike Ruddock’s men were the domestic kingpins in 2013 and 2015. Indeed, last season also saw them win the Bateman Cup at All-Ireland level and Senior League Cup and Senior Cup in Leinster.

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Lansdowne’s 2015 All-Ireland League success was followed by a disappointing seventh place finish in the subsequent campaign, but Jack O’Sullivan believes the headquarters club have the squad to deal with the pressure of being defending champions.

“You lose one or two every year, but you have some coming through from the Under-20s. We have a decent squad. It’s coming along nicely. It’ll be interesting to see where that motivation is at come Friday night, but I am sure it’ll be flying,” said the Castleknock College product, speaking at the recent All-Ireland League launch at Irish Rugby HQ.

“It’s a big year for us. We learned the hard way in 2015, just avoiding relegation the following year. Building on last year (is the plan).”

O’Sullivan comes into the new season on the back of an impressive 2017/18 campaign, which saw him nailing down a regular place in the Lansdowne starting XV and playing for the Ireland Students team. A serious ankle injury previously curtailed his development with the club’s first team and he admits he has come a long way in the past twelve months.

“I played three seasons ago, one or two Leinster League fixtures and on the back of it I had a bit of form going in. I played out here (the Aviva Stadium) in my first year. It was great to get a run-out in the Aviva so young, but unfortunately I did my ankle in. Had to get it reconstructed and missed the rest of the season.

“Last year was my first full season. It was just great to keep fit and on the pitch. The bit of form and the run of games I got made the opportunity for me to go over to England. If you asked me where I would have been at the start of last season, I would have been just hopeful of playing for Lansdowne.”

When many of the league’s players were utilising their spare time to great effect, it proved to be a hectic summer for O’Sullivan. After holding talks with several overseas professional clubs, former Munster and Ireland head coach Declan Kidney offered him a trial at London Irish.

It provided the towering forward with a unique insight into the professional game, although he ultimately decided to concentrate on his business and management degree in Dublin Business School where he is currently in the second year of the three-year course.

“It was the day of the Dublin Sevens and I was on my way with a car full of lads. I got a phone call at about 7.45am and Declan Kidney is on the line. He said, ‘I will be in Dublin for an hour, and I can spare you 20 minutes. Can you meet me here?’ I had to drop the lads, turn the car around, back across the city. Met him, had a chat.

“He hadn’t seen a huge amount of me and was taking a risk in bringing me over there. It was his reputation on the line in terms of bringing guys over there. Between us we came to a fair agreement and I don’t think he was too ashamed of how I did over the summer. I thought I was there or thereabouts.

“I did a full pre-season, played against Munster down in Cork and against Leicester Tigers in Welford Road. It was an unbelievable experience. There was an offer to stay. I didn’t really see it as something worth pursuing now. Maybe in a year or two’s time when I have the degree out of the way.”

Although this short period with the Exiles saw O’Sullivan working alongside a Grand Slam-winning coach, this is something he is accustomed to at Lansdowne already. Four years before Kidney guided Ireland to Six Nations glory in 2009, Ruddock achieved the same feat with his native Wales.

Despite being an amateur set-up in name, O’Sullivan believes the vastly-experienced Ruddock, together with Mark McHugh and director of senior rugby Stephen Rooney, have created an environment at Lansdowne FC that is akin to the professional game. 

“We are blessed in Lansdowne. It’s a bit clichéd at this stage going on about Mike, but Mike is meticulous in the way he organises sessions and approaches matches. It wasn’t a huge surprise in terms of the content that you would cover in training (at London Irish). I found that you had a lot more time to analyse things and obviously the pace of the game increases marginally.

“To be honest, between the hit-out against Munster and the (All-Ireland League) final back here in May against Cork Con, there wouldn’t have been a huge difference in terms of prep, the physicality that was going on out there in the final and the pace.

“Division 1A is a great stepping stone for guys to push through, because you are playing against professional players week in, week out with the clubs that are in there. It’s not a huge difference.”

While Leinster and Munster’s GUINNESS PRO14 derby on Saturday is seen as the headline act of the weekend, the two provinces’ top clubs will be represented in Division 1A in the coming days. There is an even split between the east and south in the top flight this year, with five Dublin clubs being joined by some formidable Cork and Limerick outfits.

Shannon are making their return to this level – after a five-season stint in Division 1B – with a daunting first round encounter with Cork Constitution. Acutely aware of their legacy in this competition (Shannon remain top of the roll of honour with a record nine titles), O’Sullivan is eagerly anticipating Lansdowne’s December meeting with Tom Hayes’ side at Thomond Park.

“I watched the Axel (Foley) show and couldn’t get over the difference in the turnout then. It’ll be great to go down there and get stuck into them in their back yard. It’s great to have them back up. Another competitive team,” he added.