RONAN O'GARA is living proof that you must have the mental strength to go along with ability in sport.
For the second successive week he showed why he is so important to Munster by landing a dramatic final minute match winning Heineken Cup drop goal against Castres at Stade Ernest-Wallon last Saturday. His effort enabled Munster to come from 18-7 down to snatch a 27-24 victory.
After what was another entertaining round of Heineken Cup games, Munster have now won their opening two encounters but trail pool leaders Llanelli Scarlets by a point. Leinster, following an impressive 38-13 home success over Glasgow Warriors, top their pool, two points ahead of Bath.
But the weekend was not quite so kind to Ulster who lost 20-9 to Leicester Tigers at Welford Road, while Connacht, sadly, were no match for the might of Toulouse aand went down 36-10 at the Sportsground.
On a perfect day, Connacht would have provided the story but, yet again, it was O'Gara who grabbed most of the headlines.Unusually, he has the priceless asset of being at his calmest when everything is at stake at the end of a game.
Many a player will hide when the pressure really comes on, not O'Gara. He openly admits that he loves a situation whereby the winning and losing of a match hangs on his shoulders either from a penalty or a drop goal.
"I could have missed but I didn't." he stated. "You put yourself in that position. That's your responsibility, your job, what you get paid for.
"I love it, It was nicely struck but I think that we probably shouldn't have had to depend on my effort."
He's right. Munster were some way off their best for much of the match but, then again, they know from past experiences that they have the ability to recover.
While O'Gara is the most obvious example, Munster has never been lacking in players with self-belief. Skipper Paul O'Connell, for example, was superb in helping his side stage their recovery.
But even O'Connell has been somewhat taken aback by O'Gara's dramatic last ditch match winning drop goals against Northampton and Castres over the last two weeks. "He (O'Gara) is an incredible guy," stressed the Irish second-row.
"It's great to know that you have a guy behind the pack that wants those pressure moments.
The bigger the pressure, the better he seems to get."
O'Connell though wasn't going to let O'Gara's winning kick disguise the fact that Munster weren't at their best. Of particular concern is that fact that they have conceded far too many points in those opening two games.
It looked really bad for Munster when they trailed 18-7 five minutes before the interval. Apart from a well taken Doug Howlett try, converted by O'Gara. Munster just hadn't produced.
But an O'Gara penalty right on half-time gave them hope and they were right back in it four minutes after the break. The highly rated flanker Peter O'Mahony burst through for a try which O'Gara converted to make it 18-17.
From there on it was anyone's game. Substitute centre Will Chambers got a third Munster try but the game looked sure to end in a draw with the sides tied at 24-24 and time virtually up.
Then again, past experiences have shown that nothing can be taken for granted with Munster, and more particularly O'Gara, around. The other contender for the Irish out-half jersey, meanwhile, Jonathan Sexton was also in top class form for Leinster at the RDS on Sunday.
But their 38-13 victory over Glasgow was a stroll. They simply blew away their opponents in the first half, scoring four tries through Rob Kearney, Eoin O'Malley (2) and Gordon D'Arcy to secure the bonus point.
Sexton added all four conversions to make if 31-6 at the interval. Having completed the
job, Leinster took their foot off the gas in the second half and allowed Glasgow to respond with a converted try.
But that only served to cause the home side to increase the tempo again and Leinster went over for a fifth try through Isaac Boss, again converted by Sexton in the closing stages. Glasgow coach Sean Lineen summed it all up, commenting: "We got well and truly spanked, didn't we?"
"They won the contact battle hands down in attack and defence. There were four or five instances where they just stipped the ball off us, like taking candy from a baby."
For a time, it looked as if the Ulster out-half Ian Humphreys was going to have another big day as his side took on Leicester at Welford Road. Humphreys, responsible for all of his sides points in the opning victory over Clermont, banged over three huge long-range penalties.
But things suddenly went wrong when proved with a much easier kick which would have leveled matters at 12-12 in the final quarter. Humphreys missed and his failure to find touch later gave Leicester the opportunity to make certain of a somewhat flattering 20-9 victory with the Matt Smith's try.
As hard as Connacht tried, they were no match for Toulouse at the Sportsground. Faced by an outfit full of French internationals in front of a packed house, they were simply never allowed to get into the game.
Toulouse, ahead 22-3 at the interval, eventually got home 36-10. At least though, Connacht did manage an improved second half effort which brought about a penalty try converted by Miah Nikora.
Ref slammed by Corofin
THE possibility of St Brigid's facing St Brigid's in the Club All-Ireland Senior Football Championship final is still on following a number of exciting and controversial matches over the weekend.
While St Brigid's from Dublin proved much took good for Wexford's Horeswood in the Leinster quarter-final, winning 1-20 to 3-8, St Brigid's from Roscommon had to fight all the way to edge past Galway's Corofin in the Connacht decider.
It finished with St Brigid's getting home by 0-11 to 0-10 but Corofin fans were furious with Mayo referee Liam Devanney. Not only did he disallow what looked to be a perfectly good Carofin goal just before half-time, but he also heavily favored St Brigid's on the free count.
Devanney had to escorted from the field at the end of the game as he was surrounded by Corofin supporters and players. It's now expected that the Connacht Council will mount an investigation after reports that Devanney and officials were struck.
Hopefully, that doesn't prove to be the case as there is no excuse for such action. At the same time, Corofin will claim that their frustration was a result of Devanney not giving them a fair deal and taking a much too stern approach from early on.
He booked no fewer than 13 players and Corofin argued that the free count was almost two to one in favour of St Brigid's. Kieran Fitzgerald, the Corofin full-back, described the referee as "a disgrace."
He added: "I know this sounds like sour grapes but I was bitterly disappointed by the referee today. When you are playing at this level and there is so much at stake it's very hard to take losing like that."
Carofin manager Brian Silke chose his words more carefully, but he felt that they definitely had got the worse of the decisions and he believed that Mike Farragher's first half goal was legitimate.
Television replays suggest that the goal should, in fact, have been awarded. Either way, St Brigid's were just pleased to have survived after a really poor first half performance when they only managed four points from frees.
At that stage, they were fortunate to trail by only three points. But they did come good in the final quarter when Frankie Dolan burst into life.
Dolan and Senan Kilbride shared 10 points between them. Dolan got six, four from frees, with Kilbride finishing with four, three of which came from the placed ball.
Alan O'Donovan was Corofin main scorer with four points. Across at Parnell Park in the capital, Dublin champions St Brigid's had so such worries in eventually easing to a 1-20 to 3-8 success over Horeswood.
It was, however, a creditable performance from Horewood, particularly in the first half when they scored three goals. Indeed, at one stage, they led by 3-2 to 0-8.
But once St Brigid's got going, there was only going to be one winner. The Dublin champions, playing their seventh game in eight weeks, took command in the second half with the Paddy Andrews contributing 1-3.
Elsewhere in Leinster, Portlaoise got the better of Wicklow's Rathnew by 1-14 to 0-12 and Kildare's Athy trounced Carlow's Old Leighlin by 1-13 to 1-3. Portlaoise, who came good in the second half, will now face St Brigid's in the semi-finals with Athy facing Garrycastle from Westmeath.
Unsurprisingly, Kerry representatives Dr Crokes will face Cork champions UCC in the Munster decider. Equally unsurprisingly, Colm Cooper was the hero for Dr Crokes as they saw off a determined challenge from Clare's Kilmurray-Ibrickane in the semi-final.
Dr Crokes only got home by 0-12 to 0-9 after a hard-fought match. In fact, the Kerry champions trailed by 0-9 to 0-7 at the three-quarters stage having lost Daithi Casey to a second yellow card.
So, it needed something special, and Cooper duly delivered by scoring the last four points of the game. UCC, by contrast, had no such worries in demolishing Tipperary's Moyle Rovers by 5-12 to 1-5 at the Clonmel Sportsfield.
Intriguingly, they included eight Kerrymen in their line-up. One of those, Paul Geaney was quite brilliant, scoring 2-5 as the Sigerson Cup holders outclased their rivals.
In Ulster, Burren from Down set up a final clash with Crossmaglen by beating Monaghan's Latton by 1-10 to 0-11 in a tense second semi-final. Shay McArdle got the all important goal for Burren who finished the game with 13 men.