Donncha O’Callaghan will be pulling the curtain down on a glittering 20-year rugby career after Warriors’ clash with Harlequins at Sixways on Saturday (kick-off 3pm).
And here’s what he told the local media in the last press conference of his playing career.
Why I’m retiring
For me it’s about putting priorities in place. I’ve made massive sacrifices throughout my playing career to miss out on certain things but I think in the last few years, with everything that’s gone on with really close friends, you realise that family is so important. I’m starting to miss small things but they’re adding up and I’m missing my kids and being there for them and being a proper dad. I need to make my family a priority and stop masking behind sacrifices which are really just selfish moments from me.
With that said I’ve had a great time, I’ve made incredible friends and picked up values and characteristics from within the game and the people that have influenced me from under-age level and up. I’ve loved it and I’m honestly so thankful to the game, the way it’s shaped me as a person and as a man. It was important family-wise for them to know I was calling time on my career. That’s something I’ve mulled around with for the past few months. I can easily keep playing but there comes a time when you just have to draw a line in the sand. Body-wise I feel good and I could keep going on but I think there’s a time when you have to prioritise and hopefully I’ll be remembered for being a good rugby player but I’d rather be a great dad. My little boy is starting to dress up in Elsa dresses from the film Frozen and hanging around with princess outfits – so I think he badly needs a male influence around the house!
Thank you to my wife, family and friends
Every time I go back to Ireland I’m quite glad my clothes aren’t out in the front garden! I’ve been at Worcester for three seasons now so there’ll be a bit of a transition with me going back. I’ve loved it and I’m grateful to my family and especially my wife Jenny. You have to be selfish to be a top-end sportsman, you have to be so focused for yourself and she’s allowed me to do that because she knows how much I love it so I’m thankful to her and the family for backing me and that’s led to me having a decent enough career of it.
Best moment in the game
It was my first cap. The provincial game has gathered momentum but when I was growing up if you were into rugby it was all about playing for Ireland. I’ve never been so proud as when I ran on for my first cap. I was bursting with pride after the game. I remember we won with Ronan O’Gara slotting a drop-goal to win it but even if we’d lost by 80 points I’d have still been delighted! It was just a special, special moment. To see how proud that made my family gave me a massive lift. It’s the one that stands out. There were definitely more successful days but from six-years-old, it’s the one you always want.
My time at Worcester
I’ve loved it at Sixways. It’s been a rollercoaster at times because you want to perform and do better and push on. For myself personally I think I’ve developed in the leadership role which is something I maybe stood back from for years. Obviously I’ve been lucky to be around really influential leaders and always picked it up but if I could go back I’d have helped them more because you realise how important it is and everyone can lead in different ways. We have a brilliant structure here at Warriors and we have brilliant younger guys and it’s helping them to find their voice. There are guys that lead with their actions but for me to step up was a personal improvement and also just playing every week. Before I signed I probably didn’t give the Premiership the respect it deserved – but it’s full-on every week. It’s non-stop. I’m leaving with a fondness of how competitive it is and how hard it is. From when I signed on I would’ve liked to have pushed on but I think as a group we’ve done incredibly well and with these games coming up we need to keep everything in our control and make sure we provide a platform for these younger guys coming through to step up in the next few years. I think I’ve learned an awful lot about myself and as a playing group I’m so incredibly proud of everyone. There could have been plenty of excuses but we’ve never taken them, and that’s because they care about the club, each other and the supporters.
What I’ll miss
Surprisingly, pre-season is one of the bits I’ll miss. Those are the moments where you make bonds with your teammates. When you’re suffering with each other you make a bond that gets you through the difficult games and difficult times. The physical side of work I’ve always loved and I think I’ll try and swap that in with something else. Of course, vanity will probably kick in and I’ll probably never hit a maul or a scrum again but the big thing I’ll miss is the changing room. The fun, the craic, the hanging around with each other, the common goal of a group of lads working together towards something. That camaraderie and special bond you get in any changing room is the bit I’m going to miss.
I think I’ll go back to my first role first of all – in just being a supporter. I’m looking forward to getting over here with my son Jake and getting to a few of the games. Spending more time with the family is the priority but never say never in terms of not getting involved again in the game. I’d have to find the area of the game I’d add value to but certainly for me, working with the younger guys and the incredible talent that’s around and helping harness them is something I’m massively interested in doing. I remember being there myself and being exposed to influential people when I was younger and they actually gave you a template on how to conduct yourself and how to look after yourself and push on.
The key to a long-lasting career
I’ve been lucky. If you’re willing to put your head between two arses and push that’s all you need to do in the second row! I’ve been lucky in that regard as when you lose a yard of pace like a winger, that’s time, but if you’re crazy enough to play in the second row then they’ll leave you at it! I’ve had brilliant fitness advisers throughout the years like Bryce Kavanagh. You’re in the club for maybe four or five hours a day so what are you doing for the other 19 to 20 hours of the day and how are you looking after yourself? That shows the pros. Going to bed early and looking after your body. Fellas like Jim Williams used to say – your body is your business. It’s your tool to do your job. So you’ve got to make sure it’s ready. If a coach doesn’t pick you then that’s their call but you’ve got to present yourself to be ready for them. I’ve always tried to do that and it’s something I’m massively proud of at Worcester. I don’t think a lot of teams would’ve signed a 36-year-old but I’ve been able to present and be ready for every session.
How will I feel after the game on Saturday?
I don’t know how I’ll feel. I’m thinking ‘Should I get emotional about all this?’ but I’m not an emotional person. I have teammates that would bawl their eyes out at Disney movies but that’s just not me. I promise my singular focus with the match is performance. I don’t want to treat this game any different. When you have quality opposition in the Premiership, if we don’t bring our best performance, if we don’t max out and play beyond ourselves, we won’t be in with a chance. So that’s all I’m focused on. It’s about channelling emotions in the right way. I actually use emotion as a fuel for me. I need to be emotionally invested in the game. There have been plenty of games where I’ve looked back and thought ‘Who’s that lunatic?’ but that’s because I need to get to that level. If you don’t channel it right, I know from myself I could rack up 20 penalties in the first three minutes! So I need to get that right.
Whether I’ll start against Harlequins
Coaches have to do what’s 100 per cent right. He (Alan Solomons) picks the best 15 and always has. We chat openly and honestly. We have a really good relationship. Andrew Kitchener, Justin Clegg, James Scott – these are the guys we need to be bringing through. They are a multi-talented group. They’re just in my position without even touching upon the likes of Will Butler, Ollie Lawrence, Ted Hill, etc. There’s a brilliant young group. I understand what Alan has to do. He’s got to get the group ready and right. You want the guys breathing down your neck because you need a competitive squad.
Working in rugby
I don’t think coaching is a role for me. It’s tough. I don’t know how they do it. If you go into any top-end club you’ll notice the first in and last out are the coaches. The game changes so quickly they constantly need to upskill and get better and improve. Not that I’m afraid to work like that but over the past few years I’ve given all of myself to rugby and I need to prioritise towards my family. The Academy is certainly an area I’d like to get involved with. You have to make sure that you’re adding value in a role though. I think that working in that age-group is something I’d be massively excited with as I remember at that age you’re a sponge. If you’re around key guys, and like the younger group I mentioned, they’re the type of guys that if they start to jump up now they can keep going. I think we have the potential of a few Lions in our younger group if they’re groomed and looked after correctly.
Ted Hill is an incredible player. He’s got it all and it’s about making sure you’re helping him and supporting him and giving him little tips along the way. A big thing I’ve learned in England as opposed to Ireland is that I was constantly in John Langford or Mick Galway’s ears, asking them first up whereas English lads don’t tend to do that. They’re just more reserved or maybe they feel like they’re being cheeky but Irish lads will tap guys for their knowledge. I don’t want to be one of those old guys driving them crazy saying ‘This is how I did it back in the day’. I think there are certainly exciting times ahead with guys like Ted and I think he’s a leader too. If he keeps progressing the way he is he could definitely be a Lion. He and Will Butler have exceptional leadership qualities and as an older player you feel the responsibility to leave the Club in a better spot for these guys. I haven’t tasted success with Warriors but I’d love to see these guys in as Premiership final in years to come.
Tickets for Warriors vs Harlequins this Saturday are still available by clicking here, calling 01905 459309 or visiting the Ticket Office.