07 December, 2011

Ronan O'Gara set to make 100th Heineken Cup appearance; quite incredibly it will be his 99th start:

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ROG releases another watch winning drop goal
           Ronan O'Gara will make headlines for the third consecutive Heineken Cup weekend this Saturday when he runs out at Parc y Scarlets to face Llanelli.  Matchdays one and two saw O'Gara convert dramatic last gasp drop goals at the death of consecutive games away to Castres and at home to last season's finalists Northampton Saints, to secure improbable victories. 
           This coming weekend, the Cork man will equal the record number of Heineken Cup appearances of 100 set by his Munster colleague, John Hayes.  Whilst the prop's record is undoubtedly stunning (particularly for a player in his position);  O'Gara's appearance record has been achieved with just one cap coming from the bench compared to six from his former Ireland colleague.
              O'Gara holds a couple of other impressive Heineken Cup records.  The Cork native was voted as the Heineken Cup's Most Important Player  (1995 - 2010)  and is also the only player to have scored more than 1,000 points (he currently has 1,221 points to his name) in Europe's premier club rugby competition.
...and celebrates that winning feeling!
          Having had so much of the limelight in the past (and present);  O'Gara was happy to spread the love for one of Munster Rugby's true unsung heroes in the coleface that is the front row:   “I was honoured to present John Hayes with his cap for reaching 100 Heineken Cup matches. He was the most fitting Munster man to achieve that milestone,” said O’Gara magnanimously.
          There are those who will argue that O'Gara is the true star of this Munster Rugby dynasty for the way he has controlled games from number 10 and produced clutch kicks at the death of so many games which have turned defeats into victory time and time again for the Red Army - no more so than in the opening two games of this 2011-'12 campaign. 
          How do you pick out one moment from a European career that started with a  48-40  defeat at The Stoop against Harlequins back in the 1997/'98 season and has seen O’Gara win two Heineken Cup titles, reach four finals and five other semi-finals. It is virtually impossible, especially as this season’s two games have thrown up two more candidates for his Top 10 best moments. 
Of course ROG has had drop goal glory in an Ireland shirt...
          O'Gara, having made his debut as a fresh faced 20 year old back, scoring 15 points back in 1997 at Twickenham's Stoop in a 48-40 reverse to the home side (Harlequins); O'Gara has seen the game of rugby go from strength to strength in this country. 

...celebrating 2009 Grand Slam with BOD
            “When we played Leinster in Dooradoyle in 1997 there were 500 people there. Now we can get 80,000 for a Heineken Cup clash between the same two teams. That shows the impact the game has in this country and it doesn’t happen by chance - there has been a lot of hard work done by the provinces, ERC and Heineken," - ROG continues.  O'Gara's career has indeed mirrored the path of the Heineken Cup itself as both developed from infancy in and around the same time to become massive names for all rugby fans.  From Stoop to Conquerer, one imagines that O'Gara's final big moment in the Cup won't merely be his 100th appearance.
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