Great servant O’Connor to hang up his rugby boots

Rugby Round Up with Rob Murphy

ONE of Connacht’s most prominent rugby players has announced his retirement this week. Johnny O’Connor was a household name in the west and throughout Ireland over the past 13 years and his presence in the dressing room will be missed.

Along with Gavin Duffy and Eric Elwood, O’Connor kept the flag flying for west of Ireland players as one of their three stars in the early days of professionalism, and his move to London Wasps in 2003 saw him hit the headlines in European and world rugby as the no nonsense energy fuelled openside flanker who wouldn’t give an inch.

The 33-year-old Galway native earned his first contract with Connacht in 2000 back in a time when balancing provincial rugby with your All Ireland League club was the norm. He played some big games for Galwegians having moved from his local club Corinthians (he lived just down the road in Claregalway).

It was while playing a friendly against Wasps that club captain Lawrence Dallaglio took notice of O’Conory and recommended the dynamic flanker to his Director of Rugby Warren Gatland. O’Connor joined Wasps the following year.

O’Connor made 74 appearances during his four seasons with the London club. A multi-medal winner, he was involved in two Heineken Cup victories, two Premiership titles and a Powergen Cup win.
He earned his first international call up in 2004, making his debut for Ireland against South Africa in the Autumn internationals. He made 12 appearances for Ireland and was part of the 2006 squadwhich won the Triple Crown.

Aged 25, O’Connor was named the 2005 Irish Rugby Union Players Associations (IRUPA) Players’ Player of the Year. A week later he was announced as one of eight Ireland players to be included in the Barbarians squad.

O’Connor returned to his native Galway in 2007 and rejoined Connacht where he has remained for the last seven seasons. The second stint has seen him turn in some heroic performances and battle back from some frustrating injuries.
His no-holes-bared style earned him the nickname ‘Johnny O’Congrete’ in Wasps and it summed up his playing style perfectly.

Meanwhile on the field, Connacht are gradualluy bringing the curtain down on another Rabo Direct Pro 12 campaign as they travel to Treviso for an 8pm Saturday evening kick off in the eastern Italian city. The home side sit seven points ahead of westerners in the table as both sides look to secure a highest ever finish of seventh in the coming weeks.

The manner of the 22-0 loss in Munster last week has created a deflated feeling around the team this week after their fine run of three wins on the bounce. A trip to Edinburgh follows this game before they round off the season at home to Ulster and Glasgow. Three wins from their final four might lift the spirits heading into the summer, but it’s a tall order for this side.

A 24-22 bonus point home win over Old Wesley last Saturday has Corinthians on the brink of promotion to the second tier of All Ireland league rugby. They travel to UCC this weekend joint top of the table with a six point advantage over the Cork students who are the only side left capable of breaking into the top two in the final two rounds.
A win there, or a win in their final game over Seapoint would almost certainly see them go up, but Corinthians will be keen to do the business this weekend to avoid any final day complications.

Promotion would bring the club to the highest point in their history and would underline the huge progress being made under the guidance of Phil Pretorious.

Galwegians and Monivea meet at the Sportsground on Sunday in the final of the Heineken Junior Cup with a 3pm kick off in a game that will be preceded by the Junior Plate final between Ballinasloe and Ballina.