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'I'm just delighted': Tom O'Toole reacts to unexpected Ireland call for mid-season stock take

 

Upward arc: Tom O’Toole in action for Ulster
Upward arc: Tom O’Toole in action for Ulster
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

While confirmation of Ireland's training panel on Monday afternoon prompted most to wonder exactly what a "mid-season stock take" entailed in rugby rather than retail terms, the news can be viewed as a move towards a greater level of transparency than we've had in recent years.

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Such pre-Christmas gatherings are annual events and yet the make-up of those in attendance is usually revealed only in drips and drabs, deduced from just who does and doesn't pitch up at provincial training rather than an official announcement.

Even if such cloak and dagger practices were still the order of the day, it's unlikely that Tom O'Toole's recognition from new head coach Andy Farrell could have been kept under wraps for much longer.

Hearing of his first involvement with the senior national side in the space between his car and media duty on Monday afternoon, the smile could understandably not be wiped from the 21-year-old tight-head's face.

"Obviously I'm just delighted that I've been sort of noticed and involved," said the Drogheda native, who played his schools rugby at Campbell College having arrived in Ulster as a teenager after nearly a decade spent in Australia.

"There will have been a lot of players fighting for those positions but I'm just training away and working hard and delighted with the opportunity."

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Tom bursting through the RBAI defence in his Campbell College days

While O'Toole and club-mate Billy Burns are among the new faces in the panel, there will be a fresh feel to the get-together for all under a new coach and location with Abbotstown rather than Carton House the destination.

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For O'Toole, who has only played with his fellow Ulstermen and Leinster hooker Ronan Kelleher in the past, the 24 hours or so split over Sunday and Monday will be viewed as a great learning opportunity.

"I'm sure I'm going to be learning a hell of a lot so I'm just really excited for that," he said.

"I was just focused on preparing for Leinster (Friday, 7.35pm kick-off) and this week oblivious to it all, and then I looked online and was very grateful that I'd been recognised and given that call-up.

"I'm going to be there, keeping my head down and working hard. I've no idea yet what will be required or what I will be doing but I'm just excited to be involved.

"But we have big interpros coming up starting with a big one away first.

"It'll be an exciting one going down to the RDS. I played in that one last year. It didn't go the way we wanted but we're very excited to go back. The group has come a long way (since then) and the depth of the squad has improved.

"The players coming in this week are excited to go down and rip in."

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Tom with the Ireland Under-20s

Unlike many of his fellow team-mates born within Leinster territory, O'Toole grew up without dreaming of wearing the blue jerseys he'll be facing off against at the RDS Arena this weekend.

"Obviously they were quite successful but when you're that far over on the other side of the world it was always southern hemisphere and Super Rugby that I followed," he said.

"I probably got a little bit out of touch with northern hemisphere rugby. But as far as I'm concerned I'm an Ulsterman, this is the club that gave me my first opportunity and this is where I'd love to stay and build a good career. This is my province."

A province for whom he has now scored his first professional try.

Coming on early for an ill Marty Moore against Harlequins in Ulster's fourth Champions Cup victory on the spin last Friday night, the 45 minutes were, unsurprisingly, his longest substitute stint of the season.

Equipping himself well throughout, the lengthy cameo gave him time to barge over the line with the final play of the game, bagging his side's fifth of the night in the 34-10 win. While hardly a measurement of a prop's success, his last five-pointer had come back for the A side in the Celtic Cup, a European try at The Stoop something of a contrast in surroundings.

"It only took me about 30 games (34) but I got there in the end," he laughed.

"I was talking to Andy Warwick and he's played in (over) 100 and he's only got one try, so hopefully it won't take me that long to get another one.

"It would have been nice if it had been the bonus-point one, but it still counts, five points nonetheless.

"It was just a remarkable game to play in. I came on early for Marty and it was a really set-piece orientated game.

"We opened them up a bit in the second half and it was nice to score my first try.

"I'll definitely remember that for a while - a European fixture against Harlequins at The Stoop. It's one I'll remember."

Much like this week's Ireland call-up, he'll be hoping that it's just the first of many throughout his career.

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