Ireland new boy Tom O'Toole feels ready to be called upon in Six Nations after journey from Brisbane to Belfast02/03/2021
TOM O’TOOLE has read that critics think he is miles off an Ireland debut.
But having travelled thousands of miles and swapped the Brisbane beach for a Belfast boarding school, he shrugs it off as he looks to the Six Nations.
The 22-year-old uncapped prop was included in the Ireland squad for the Six Nations which raised eyebrows from pundits, notably Bernard Jackman.
A former front row himself, Jackman declared that O’Toole will be a great player one day, but is not ready now as he questioned Andy Farrell’s decision to call him up.
But O’Toole is not about to let a few words hurt him.
He declared: “I think Andy's a very intelligent coach so I don't think he would bring me in, especially when there's only five props, if he didn't believe in me.
FAITH IN HIS ABILITY
“And I think his belief and the coaches' belief gives me an extreme amount of belief in myself, and confidence.
“I think it's something that obviously I haven't played international, I haven't been capped before so it's one of those areas where it's a bit unknown.
“I think if I do get the opportunity I think I'll be ready to perform.
“But look, ultimately that's up to the coaches and I'm here just to be a sponge, learn as much as I can as possible by getting the opportunity to go hard, really just go for it.
“But I'm patient, I'm really just excited to be here, excited to be in this environment and working with the team that we have and the quality of players we have around us.
“So I'm just very excited to be in here at the moment and just do my absolute best.”
Given O’Toole’s journey to where he is now, it is no surprise that a few critical comments would not trouble him.
Aged 16, he moved from Brisbane in Australia to board in Campbell College in Belfast with a dream of playing for Ireland.
Born in Drogheda, he lived in Ratoath until he was six when his family moved to Australia.
O’Tootle explained: “It was supposed to be three years initially but it ended up being ten years. Things went well.
“I had two older brothers and, at the time, we were pretty good with the school playing some rugby over there and enjoying life.
“The Australian lifestyle on the east coast there is pretty nice with the beaches and the weather. It was a pretty attractive place to live.”
MOVE HELPED HIS RUGBY
Having played GAA, soccer and Aussie Rules, he drifted towards rugby admitting that the sport suited his build.
With rugby big in Brisbane, it was also an easy move and one he acknowledged may not have happened had the O’Toole family remained in Meath.
“It’s something I wonder. I think my parents, especially my Dad is really fond of rugby, he just never played it as a young lad and it’s something that he regretted.
“So at a young age, it was always on the tele but, in Ratoath, it was something that wasn’t looked at, we just played what our friends played which was obviously hurling and football.
“That was pretty much it from a young age. To be honest, I don’t know if I’d have played rugby.”
But he excelled at it in Australia that led to mutterings of a Wallabies call-up though an Irish coach in Brisbane had different ideas.
“There was a coach of mine at Under 14, Johnny McMurphy from Bangor just outside of Belfast.
“He sent an email to myself saying would he mind if he put my name forward into the Irish Exiles system.
“I genuinely didn’t think much about it at the time, I thought being so far away in Australia, there was no way I could probably end up…
“Then a year and a half later, I got in touch with him again saying that I was returning home to see family with my parents.
“He said if I didn’t mind, would I mind taking a trip up to Ulster to meet Kieran Campbell, the academy manager at the time.
“I took the trip up and discussed a few things there in Belfast with Ulster.
"I returned back to Australia after a few weeks, didn’t think much about it as well, just thought what an experience, a great opportunity to go in and see one of the provinces and see the set-up.
“A few months after that, I got in contact with Kieran again and he said, ‘Look if you’re thinking about coming, maybe it’s best to put you in for a couple of years in school, thinking of university and college and stuff.’
“Leaving school (in Australia) probably would have been an easier transition for me, settling myself in Belfast for a couple of years, playing school rugby and going in.
“I had a week to decide and I just thought I’d take the opportunity. So that’s how I ended up at Ulster.”
It was a culture shock swapping the beach lifestyle in Brisbane for a Belfast boarding school, particularly as his family did not follow for a few months, but O’Toole settled in.
Now he considers Belfast home and Ulster have certainly taken to him as he has become a key man in their front row.
His stats this year are outstanding – he has missed just two tackles in the PRO14 all season – that has seen Farrell take notice and bring him into the Ireland squad.
“I’ve had opportunities (with Ulster) and it's been great to get in and get some game-time.
“It's a privilege and it's an honour. Every time I go out I want to perform and, for the viewers at home, give them something to be cheerful about as well.”
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