The Leeside Legends series: Ronan O’Gara was Ireland's greatest number 10

The Leeside Legends series: Ronan O’Gara was Ireland's greatest number 10
Ronan O'Gara, Munster, kicks a penalty against Leinster in 2006. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

AT a very young age Ronan O’Gara was a household name in rugby as his all-round skills were evident during his illustrious career.

Ronan was born in San Diego in 1977, but his family moved to Cork at a very young age.

O’Gara attended Presentation Brothers College where his rugby career began in earnest as he helped them win the Munster Schools Junior Cup in the 1992/93 season and the following season he went one better when winning the senior equivalent.

“I learned a lot at Pres and the coaching I got there set me up for the rest of my career,” said O’Gara.

After spending a season with UCC in 1995, the out-half joined Cork Constitution, but when Ronan looks back on his club career, 1999 will be the year that stands out for him.

Cork Con won the All-Ireland Club title in tremendous style after defeating Garryowen at Lansdowne Road.

“I was so proud that day because we had worked so hard as a team to achieve that win.”

In 1996 Ronan began his Munster career when he sat on the bench against Connacht, but his outstanding kicking ability meant he was not going to pick up too many splinters as he soon became the first-choice number 10.

The success of Munster during the O’Gara era is well documented as they went head to head with the elite sides in Europe.

However, Munster did suffer some bitter defeats particularly in the Heineken Cup where they lost finals in 2000 to Northampton, but the 2002 loss to Leicester was a bitter pill for Ronan to swallow.

“To be honest I felt we had a great chance of winning that final, but in the end, we lost to a class Leicester side and although a lot was made about an illegal stroke by Neil Back, at the end of the game no one play will ever cost you a game.”

Munster looked dead and buried in the 2001 Heineken Cup as the only way they could make it through to the quarter-finals was to beat English champions-elect Gloucester by 27 points while also making sure their opponents didn’t score a try.

The rest is history as Munster won 33-6 on another famous Thomond Park day that had the Limerick venue rocking.

O’Gara also had a tough 2003 season on the international scene as he picked up an injury with Munster and he was replaced by David Humphreys.

The Ulsterman’s consistent form kept O’Gara on the bench, but he made a fleeting but dramatic appearance against Wales when he landed the winning drop goal.

Ronan believes the Munster fans had a special affinity with the players that many other teams in Europe cannot match.

“I think that Mick Galwey and Peter Clohessy deserve a lot of credit for the Munster revolution as they started the ball rolling years ago and it was always an honour to put on that Munster jersey.”

After many close shaves, Munster clashed with French side Biarritz in May 2006 and before a crowd of 74,534 ran out 23-19 winners after a pulsating final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

It was back to the same venue in 2008 when Munster were up against another crack French side, Toulouse, and this time, they came up trumps when running out 16-13 winners.

Ronan married Jessica Daly in 2006 and they have five children JJ, Rua, Max, Molly, and Zak.

When he finally retired from rugby in May 2013 he moved to French club Racing 92 where he worked as an assistant coach for four years

After being appointed assistant coach with Crusaders in New Zealand for one season (2018-2019) he is presently head coach of La Rochelle in France.

O’Gara’s contribution to Irish rugby is one that will stand the test of time as he is the second all-time international scorer with a 1,083 points tally.

He was selected on the 2001 British and Irish Lions team to Australia and in 2005 he was also selected for the tours to New Zealand (2005) and South Africa (2009).

Ronan was awarded the Freedom of Cork in 2017 at a ceremony in City Hall that was attended by 1,000 people when his contribution and achievements to the sport of rugby put him high on the list of Leeside legends.

Ronan O’Gara celebrates his winning drop goal against Wales in the RBS Six Nations Championship at the Millennium Stadium in 2009. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Ronan O’Gara celebrates his winning drop goal against Wales in the RBS Six Nations Championship at the Millennium Stadium in 2009. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

FACTFILE:

Ronan O’Gara was born in San Diego in 1977.

O’Gara helped his club Cork Constitution win the 1999 All-Ireland club championship when they defeated Garryowen in the final.

He won a Munster Schools Junior and Senior Cups when attending Presentation Brothers College. He then played for UCC in the 1995 season before joining Cork Con a year later.

Ronan O’Gara is Ireland’s second most capped player with 128 caps.

He was defence coach with Racing 92 from 2013 to 2017.

After being appointed assistant coach with Crusaders in New Zealand for one season (2018-2019) he is presently head coach of La Rochelle in France.

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