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comment It's no surprise that Ronan O'Gara's coaching career is soaring like one of his famous, old-school Garryowens


La Rochelle head coach Ronan O'Gara before the Heineken Champions Cup game with Gloucester

La Rochelle head coach Ronan O'Gara before the Heineken Champions Cup game with Gloucester

La Rochelle head coach Ronan O'Gara before the Heineken Champions Cup game with Gloucester

RONAN O’Gara’s relentlessly curious mind has, for the longest time, acted as a vaccine against the virus of a humdrum life.

O’Gara, like his forever inquisitive sporting cousin, Padraig Harrington, has never been remotely afraid to pursue the path less ordinary, to take the unconventional route, to expose himself to outside-the-box thinking.

His thirst for knowledge, his hunting down of any morsel of enlightenment upon which he might studiously chew, has taken the 44-year-old Corkonian on a decade-long Jules Verne-like odyssey to rugby’s outer edges.

From his natural Thomond Park habit to the dazzling lights of the Champs Elysees, on to the New Zealand heartland and the game's alpha culture, and back to the old maritime coastal city of La Rochelle, here is an Erasmus student assiduously furthering his oval ball education.

A frontiersman advancing out into unexplored territory, eager to discover what competitive advantage or nugget of wisdom might be lurking around the next corner.

The journey, along with the philosophy that underpins it, marks O’Gara out among the most fascinating and compelling Irish sportsmen of any era.

He might easily have traded on his reputation as one of the great quarterbacks and natural-born leaders this country has known, guaranteeing an express elevator to the domestic coaching penthouse.

Yet, that very thought of taking a shortcut would appall him, feel like the polar opposite extreme to fulfilment.

For, you sense, with O'Gara that the journey is the juice.

We come back to curiosity and thirst for knowledge, qualities encoded deep in the genetic makeup of so many of those who view life as a sporting Camino, who are forever mining for that extra, elusive percentile.

These are the kind of singular men and women, custodians of sponge-like minds, whose pilgrimage so often finishes at the coaching hall of fame.

O’Gara’s dipping into the world of broadcasting has revealed a mind that is a treasure house of insightful thinking.


Ronan O'Gara has dipped into the world of broadcasting

Ronan O'Gara has dipped into the world of broadcasting

Ronan O'Gara has dipped into the world of broadcasting

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The intelligence, brutal honesty, rich analysis and powerful cocktail of profound observations and wry humour set the former Munster out-half apart from the rest of the field.

O’Gara’s brain is a cold-house for cliché or lazy thought: He appears genetically incapable of resorting to a stock answer.

He is interesting and interested, happy to challenge lazy group-thinking, unafraid of going against the grain. In this, he appears hewn from the same cerebral quarry as high-achievers like Jurgen Klopp or Phil Jackson.

Given a stark choice between winning or learning, this hugely competitive individual might tell you that one without the other would be hollow: That knowledge is victory.

It is no surprise that the graph of O'Gara's coaching career is soaring like one of those old-school Garryowens he would launch into the frigid Limerick night, inviting a baying Red Army and a salivating Mick Galwey or Paul O'Connell-led pack to visit feral terror on some public-school English full-back.

Any player with a hunger to learn, to explore the outer ranges of his talent, could not hope for a better or more sympathetic tutor.

Listen to O’Gara speak about rugby and rugby players: He is demanding yet empathetic, his ambition coated with an emotional intelligence too often suffocated by the weed of ego which entangles the minds of so many sporting coaches.

An audit of his responses would quickly detect a pattern for the scrupulous avoidance of bullshit.

He is a tactical encyclopedia, yet he has the communication skills to simplify the complex, to deliver a strategic masterpiece in easy to follow, irresistible brushstrokes.

There is a growing consensus that he is Munster and/or Ireland’s tactical commander-in-chief in waiting.

More than six months ago we argued that the out-half was the skeleton key to unlock all those long-sealed doors behind which lurk the pathways back to the days of thunder, when the southern province swept across Europe in a rush of colour, a conquering army in a stampede of ransacking glory.

His mind could be the hammer that smashes the glass ceiling that has incarcerated Munster below rugby's summit.


 O'Gara in his playing days with Ireland

O'Gara in his playing days with Ireland

O'Gara in his playing days with Ireland

You listen to O’Gara’s piercing breakdown of a contest on international days and crave the day when he swaps the TV studio for an Irish dressing-room.

Yet the man himself declines to hurry his apprenticeship, like a Leeside Sinatra, he is determined to do it his way.

His patience is yet another impressive facet of his intellectual makeup, of a masterplan that has been carefully thought out.

The imminent Champions Cup semi-final between La Rochelle and Leinster bubbles giddily with possibility, O'Gara's presence elevating it to the status of the most interesting fixture of this country's rugby season.

If he can take down Irish rugby’s totemic force, if a Munster man can at last repel the blue tide, the petitions for the prodigal to return home will reach a deafening crescendo.

Munster, flailing and thrashing in Leinster’s shadow, ravenous for a return to the top table, would not, if they offered their old Number Ten the keys to the kingdom, be turning the clock back to 2006 and 2008.

Rather, everything we know about O'Gara insists they would be winding it forward: To a new and thrilling age of crimson enlightenment.

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Online Editors