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O'Leary out to shrug off criticism and end Munster's losing run

By Cian Tracey

Published 31/12/2015

Tough spell: Tomas O’Leary and Munster are under fire, having lost five consecutive games
Tough spell: Tomas O’Leary and Munster are under fire, having lost five consecutive games

Tomas O'Leary has been around the block enough times in the past to know that criticism comes as part of the territory of being a professional rugby player but when it's coming from your own supporters as well as the opposition's, it is difficult to take.

Since returning from London Irish for a second spell with his home province Munster, O'Leary hasn't quite made the impact that he would have hoped for, but he is by no means alone as several of his team-mates struggle for form.

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At 32, the Cork native still has plenty of miles left on the clock, and he has had to learn to deal with the criticism as he prepares to face Ulster on Saturday.

"I am used to it at this stage," the scrum-half sighed. "It's not nice. No-one likes it but it is part of being a professional rugby player. You take the pats on the back in the good times and you have to take the kicks up the bum in the bad times.

"Since I started as a professional rugby player, you are going - especially in key positions - to get a fair share of criticism from the press and supporters. It is just part of your job, part of being a pro rugby player. You cannot take it too personally.

"Obviously, I would much rather the praise but as a playing squad, we can't deny that we deserve a bit of criticism at the moment. We are not getting results, so it comes with the territory."

Five defeats on the bounce have left the Munster squad shorn of confidence but with trips to Belfast and Paris to come in the next 10 days, there is no time to be wallowing in self-pity.

O'Leary acknowledged that there is a sense of fear of losing creeping into the dressing room but he insisted that players would not allow themselves to be driven by that.

"It's tough coming in after losing one game, not to mind two, three, four, five games. There's criticism from the media, from our own supporters, which is frustrating," he said.

"Obviously we want to reward our supporters with good performances and wins and that adds to the pressure. You do fear losing but you can't allow fear to dictate how you perform and play.

"You still have to have ambition and believe in what you do but it certainly increases frustration and does dampen the mood. People are happier when they're winning."

O'Leary may have the experience to know how to deal with difficult times such as these but for plenty of the younger players, this is uncharted territory.

Munster are lacking leaders such as Paul O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan as well as the injured Peter O'Mahony and that has left an onus on players like O'Leary, but he understands it is up to the likes of him to help the younger brigade through these testing times.

"It is a balancing act as to whether we've got to go harder on ourselves - we have taken responsibility for our mistakes so we have got to put the arm around the shoulder and say 'it will come, it will come, keep believing'," he explained.

"It is a balancing act between those two things, being harder on some lads and putting the arm around the shoulder of other lads - different people react differently to criticism and to praise. People learn differently. It is different for everyone and that is the balancing act for the coaches.

"The key message for us as a player group is to take more responsibility and perform better, try and take the opportunities we get on the pitch and keep believing in what we are doing."

Despite the apparent lack of leaders in the dressing room, O'Leary is refusing to blame that on Munster's desperate run of form.

"I think it's a coincidence of results. Everyone will point to the players who have gone. You do miss players of that ilk but I believe we have the players to win and to succeed," he said.

"I don't know if spikey (mood in training) is the right word, but it's definitely frustrating amongst the coaches. We have let them down as a player group. We have everything in place, we have a good game-plan and we are creating opportunities.

"As a player group we have certainly let our coaches down. It has been a tough few weeks because we haven't executed on the pitch. It is about us accepting that responsibility as players and trying to correct it.

"It is about us executing on the pitch, maintaining a bit of composure once we do create opportunities.

"For whatever reason, the last few weeks haven't gone our way and I think it's solely down to player performance rather than a lack of leadership or a lack of presence. I think it's execution and performance rather than something missing from the dressing room."

Munster supporters will indeed be hoping that is the case as their side looks to avoid another derby defeat before attempting to salvage their Champions Cup campaign against Stade Francais.

Belfast Telegraph

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