O'Gara targets final flourish
September 5, 2011
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Veteran Ireland fly-half Ronan O'Gara is determined make the most of his last opportunity to shine on the Rugby World Cup stage.
The sport's latest showpiece in New Zealand is set to be the last for O'Gara and several other members of the 'golden generation' including the likes of Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell. That knowledge has generated a sense of urgency within the Irish camp and O'Gara, who has been a central figure in Irish rugby for over a decade and collected 111 caps in the process, feels it as keenly as anyone.
"The fact this is my last World Cup is important," said the 34-year-old, who will be playing in the tournament for a third time. "I've had a good career and made an impact at European level, but the World Cup is the elite level. It would be hugely fulfilling if I did have a role to play at world level and that's a goal of mine.
"Until you perform at a World Cup you shouldn't talk about it because you haven't done it. For years at Munster we were unlucky not to win the Heineken Cup. But when we did win it we earned respect. With Ireland we haven't earned that respect at world level. It's up to us to try and earn it."
However, on current form, Ireland look destined for a brief stay in New Zealand after losing all four of their warm-up internationals last month. But spirits have clearly been raised by their arrival in the spectacular surroundings of Queenstown and O'Gara detects a change in mood.
"Our build up to the World Cup hasn't been the best, but the great thing about it is we have a chance to rectify things when it counts," he said. "During the warm-up games we were mentally off-pitch. Since we've arrived here I've noticed a difference in attitude among the players.
"That will count for an awful lot and it will be interesting to see how we go in the first game. Maybe we viewed the warm-up games as trials while other countries saw them as full on Test matches. England were hurting from their defeat in March. They came out with a point to prove and proved it.
"There's no panic in the camp. We're not denying that we wanted to win those games but at this level you have to be at fever pitch. We weren't and it's important we are during the World Cup. That should bring out the best in us."
The World Cup has proved an unhappy hunting ground, most notably four years ago when they exited the competition in the group stage following a torrid campaign. And O'Gara is unable to predict how Ireland will perform at the World Cup, admitting "anything can happen".
"Anything can happen at this World Cup and that's typical of us," he said. "We can have a bleak campaign or a fantastic campaign. I suppose that's an upshot of our careers.
"That's what makes it hugely exciting - at this level anything is possible. There's a great mood in the camp and we are excited. It's a tough group but there are opportunities there as well. It's important to get off to a good start and try to build momentum."
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