Prayer & pride

Irish rugby star Donncha O’Callaghan talks about family, faith and the future with Cathal Barry

Despite his fearsome reputation on the rugby pitch, Donncha O’Callaghan is the quintessential gentle giant. Well known among peers as a practical joker, the Munster star is privately a doting dad and devoted husband. The 6’6” colossus is also blessed with the rare ability to articulate his faith and does not shy away from revealing his pride and gratitude for his beliefs.

I caught up with Donncha shortly after Ireland’s heart breaking eleventh-hour loss to the New Zealand All Blacks in the final autumn international test match. Donncha had not been on the pitch that day and despite his disappointment at the loss, he remains “extremely proud” of the team for their “impressive performance”.


Pride is something that cropped up regularly throughout our conversation. Donncha spoke first of being a “proud Cork man”, jokingly admitting it had contributed in some way to his “swagger”. 

“I love being from Cork. It’s something I have to fight out everyday playing for Munster which represents all of the six counties. There is a fair bit of rivalry among us but I battle for Cork every day,” says.

Donncha is the fourth child in a family of five. Admitting life was “tough” after his father died when he was only six; Donncha’s “selfless” mother ensured he had a “great childhood”. “The loss of my father left a massive void in my life but I think it brought my family closer and we are just as tight today,” he said.

Gift of faith

It was also Donncha’s mother who gave him the gift of faith and taught him how to pray – something he is “massively thankful for now”.

Acknowledging his relationship with God is an essential part of his life and another aspect he is particularly proud of, the second-row revealed he regularly prays before and after rugby matches.

“Before matches I say a prayer to keep everyone safe and healthy on the pitch and a prayer to allow me to express the skills and attributes I have been blessed with. I also say a prayer of thanks afterwards for being surrounded by such talented team mates.

“I know how privileged and lucky I am and I just want to show my gratitude. I find it quite calming. It brings me inner peace,” he explained.

The former British and Irish Lions captain is also extremely proud of and thankful for his family. Donncha and his wife, Jenny married four years ago and they have three “beautiful” girls; Sophie (3), Anna (15 months) and Robin (8 weeks).


Having a family to provide for has been a life changing experience for the Munster lock. “I had only ever been accountable for myself until my kids came along. I’m very aware now of my responsibility to provide for them. I want to make sure they have the happiest life they can. I had a great childhood and that’s exactly what I want for them,” he told me.

Donncha is particularly looking forward to Christmas this year and Santa’s visit to the O’Callaghan household. He also confessed his excitement at the prospect of having two Christmas dinners in an attempt to “carb-load” for Munster’s crucial clash with Connacht the day after St Stephen’s day!


Recognising that having a young family may mean changes to Christmas arrangements in the near future; Donncha intends to make the most of this year’s festivities surrounded by his extended family. 

Christmas for the O’Callaghan’s will begin this year in Donncha’s mother’s house and move onto his wife Jenny’s family home later in the day for second helpings of turkey and ham.

 “Christmas is a busy time of year for rugby players, but it’s a great time all the same. It makes you appreciate what you have,” he told me.

Donncha’s charitable efforts overseas have also kept him grounded and have given him “genuine real perspective on how lucky we really are”.

As a UNICEF Ambassador he has recently returned from the Lebanon, close to the Syrian border where he spent time with families struggling without basics such as clean water.

“It just made me realise how important it is to help people who are less fortunate than us, through no fault of their own.”

He recalled being “embarrassed” on a previous trip to Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in 2010 having previously been “moaning to a manager” about having to sleep in a single bed the night before a vital game. “When I saw what people were suffering there I was embarrassed. You can’t compare what some people have to go through in their lives with your own. It was a humbling experience,” he said.

Despite his youth and having just agreed a new two-year contract which will see him remain a Munster player until 2016, Donncha remains a realist when it comes to retirement and life after rugby, ‘the afterlife’, as he phrases it.


“The contact and the physicality of the game now means the lifespan of rugby players is becoming shorter and shorter,” he noted. However, he has already “plans in place” for when the time comes for this great servant of Rugby to hang up his boots.

Donncha expressed an interest in eventually branching into the marketing and advertising industry and has already established his own digital marketing company, 4 Impacts Intelligent Solutions Limited. He also hopes to stay involved with rugby at under-age level out of a desire to “give back” and show his appreciation for the many opportunities rugby has presented him with.

After Donncha’s simple sign off; “Happy Christmas and God bless”, one has the distinct impression that this down to earth rugby star will be successful no matter what he turns his hand to.