O’Gara, Ireland’s second most-capped player and highest ever points scorer, was speaking at the launch of #AnswerIrelandsCall as a part of the Guinness Series 2018.
The Cork man retired in 2013 and could have easily taken up a coaching role close to home, but instead, he went to France to work with Dan Carter at Racing 92, before becoming assistant manager at New Zealand Super Rugby club, Crusaders.
“Yeah, yeah it was [an easy decision]”, O’Gara said. “From a family point of view, [staying at Crusaders for another season was not] because it’s so far away, but we’ll all go down again.
“From a rugby point of view, it is hugely fulfilling. It solidifies a lot of your own beliefs and challenges other beliefs.
“You see things very differently as well. I’d say a bit of a reshaping in terms of how I saw the game and how I see the game now.”
When quizzed about the reaction of the Crusaders players when a European coach turned up to coach them, O’Gara replied:
“There was a little bit of uncertainty [from players when I arrived] for a few weeks; just to see what this guy is like.
“We’ve all been there as players when a new coach comes in and you’ve just got to give him a bit of time, then they make up their mind.
“I definitely know that I connected with them. It’s very important that you connect with the people you’re coaching. They’re a great bunch of lads.
“If I didn’t enjoy it or think that it was right for me or them, you wouldn’t go back again. It’s definitely been a big positive.”
O’Gara outlined the difficulty he experienced when transitioning from player to coach.
“I think retiring is hard enough. For me to get onto what was next, it was easier to get out of that system.
“It was the only system I knew and I’d been there long enough but it’s not all about that system. You need to be able to make an informed, calculated judgement and maybe see different models. That’s essentially what I’m doing.”
The former fly-half has not gone down the traditional route of retired Irish rugby players. He said the role with Crusaders will make him a better coach as a result of his experience with new training methods and tactics.
“I think [it will make me a better coach in the long run]. I just think everyone is different with how they view it. That’s the beauty of rugby. There are different ways of playing and different ways of seeing it.
“From my point of view, it just leaves less question marks in your head. It gives you an awful lot of confidence and certainty from having the time to reflect on what you did, what you’ve seen and what you will have.”
O’Gara said that he didn’t always plan to go into coaching, and thought about nothing else but playing during his days with Munster and Ireland.
“No, [I didn’t always plan to go into coaching] because when you’re playing, you’re a competitive animal. It’s just about the next game, it’s all you care about. It’s about the next training session, how do you get better?
“At the latter end of my career, you see what’s best for the team. I kind of enjoy getting the best out of people and challenging them to get the best out of themselves. Sometimes you might not and that’s normal as well.
“It was something that I felt came easily to me: just trying to connect with your teammates and make them feel good about themselves. There’s that and the technical side of it as well. It’s hugely rewarding and hugely interesting – that’s the beauty of coaching.”
Finally, O’Gara backed himself to progress from assistant coach to become a head coach.
“No, [I wouldn’t be more suited to assistant coach]. I’d be a head coach, I think, no doubt about it. I’d back myself to be a head coach but I just think there’s no rush.
“I’m not afraid of what people think or say, I’ll make up my mind, do what I want to do and what I’ve always believed in and if I believe it’s the right thing to do, I’ll go for it.”
There would be no shortage of clubs interested in having him, especially considering his invaluable coaching experience abroad in France and New Zealand and his stellar career as a player.
Guinness today launched the Guinness Series by announcing their campaign #AnswerIrelandsCall in the presence of Irish Rugby legend Ronan O’Gara. #AnswerIrelandsCall celebrates the camaraderie between rugby fans, by giving them a voice and rallying them to get behind the Irish Rugby team. To encourage fans to get involved, Guinness is giving away a number of pairs to each fixture including the massive All Blacks game at the Aviva Stadium. Fans should to go the Guinness Facebook page and leave their message of support using the #AnswerIrelandsCall to be in with a chance to win tickets to the Guinness Series (terms and conditions apply)*.
Guinness is the official title sponsor of the Guinness series and a proud supporter of Irish Rugby.