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Tom O’Toole reflects on ‘special day’ for Ulster’s Ireland debutants in win over USA

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Striding foward: Tom O’Toole is tackled by USA’s David Ainu’u. Credit: INPHO/Bryan Keane

Striding foward: Tom O’Toole is tackled by USA’s David Ainu’u. Credit: INPHO/Bryan Keane

©INPHO/Bryan Keane

Robert Baloucoune

Robert Baloucoune

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Striding foward: Tom O’Toole is tackled by USA’s David Ainu’u. Credit: INPHO/Bryan Keane

With such a slew of new caps handed out at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening, the traditional initiation song for each debutant had to be performed as duets to save time.

Ulster’s Tom O’Toole paired up with his provincial colleague Nick Timoney for a rendition of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.’

To pull on a green jersey for a first time at the tender age of 22, and as a tight-head prop no less, may not suggest the most arduous of climbs but the Drogheda native has had to be patient in his quest to reach this particular peak.

Called into Andy Farrell’s first ever Ireland camp back in the festive season of 2019, two Six Nations championships came and went as part of the squad without that elusive first run out.

After his all-action display in the demolition of the USA Eagles, O’Toole was understandably thrilled.

“It was an unreal day,” he said. “From the moment I found out that I’d be playing I made a promise to myself that I’d enjoy it and not stress out too much. I tried to get on top of my detail pretty early and just enjoy the rest of the week.

“On a week like this, it’s a very emotional week and I think you have to reflect. You know, you’re getting messages from friends and family and you’re thinking about your journey and how it’s got to this point.

“It was a nice week for me but I wanted to put a good shift in and now the next couple of days I’ll reflect that bit more.

“I just wanted to make sure I was in control and enjoying it and enjoying it with the others because some of my best mates made their first cap today as well.

“It was a special day for all of us.”

Indeed on what was surely a proud day for the northern province, and more specifically their under-age structures, O’Toole was joined by James Hume, Nick Timoney and Robert Baloucoune with all four looking at home on the stage.

It was perhaps the latter, though, who made the most memorable contribution in the eyes of the 6,000-strong crowd, his opening try the product of a 50-metre slalom completed at breakneck pace.

“With Rob, I’ve seen a lot of him in training, I’ve seen a lot of him in Ulster, so it’s no surprise to me,” said O’Toole, laughing when asked if he gave any thought to giving chase in support.

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“You look at him and you’re thinking, ‘how does a guy shift like that?’

“The weight I am and the position I am, I couldn’t even begin to imagine.

“It’s very impressive to see and I’m massively chuffed for him because he’s worked so hard for it with a few injuries setting him back but he’s a wonderful player and top-class bloke so to see him move like that, express himself and show everyone what he’s capable of makes me really happy for him.”

For all the players who impressed in what was a performance rendered entertaining by Ireland’s attacking ambition if not the strength of the opposition the challenge will be maintaining their place in Farrell’s thoughts once more senior players are available.

With two players selected to tour as British and Irish Lions, Andrew Porter and Tadhg Furlong, in his position, O’Toole needs no reminding that the hard work is far from over.

“When I come into the environment the next time, hopefully in a few months if I play well with my province, hopefully Tadhg and Ports will be back so it’ll be competitive and it’ll be nice to be with them and train with them again.

“For me it’s about working hard these next few weeks, getting back in with Ulster and putting in some good performances and making sure I’m putting myself forward to be back here. It’s a highly addictive environment to be in, it’s competitive and you get a sense of happiness from days like today.

“So you’re chasing those moments again and knowing that you’ve only got to here and there’s a lot more hard work to come.”


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