Guest Speaker Ronan O’ Gara – Leadership & Motivation – A personal perspective

Almost a year to the day since Ronan O’ Gara hung up his boots as a professional rugby player, he gave a unique talk to Lincoln Recruitment Specialists about his career so far on Wednesday the 21st May at the Havelock Suite at the Aviva Stadium. Ronan was a leader by example throughout his career. He rallied his team mates by his scoring ability and his great ability to see victory when others around him doubted. He has set an amazing amount of records and his unique focus and dedication to hard work has made him one of the most significant and admired icons that rugby union has known.

With over 300 tickets booked for this event, Ronan O’ Gara attracts a crowd – even for a breakfast briefing at 7.30 in the morning. The ex-Munster and Ireland out half, now a member of the coaching staff at Racing Métro in Paris, was our keynote speaker at the booked-out Lincoln Breakfast Briefing last Wednesday. With the motivation of new re-branding for Lincoln Recruitment Specialists and a captivating setting in the Havelock Suite of the Aviva Stadium, (overlooking the very pitch where Ronan shared many great sporting moments) it was truly a morning to remember.

Shay Dalton – Managing Director Lincoln Recruitment Specialists

Shay Dalton , managing director of Lincoln Recruitment Specialists was the first key speaker on the morning. Shay gave a brief overview of the recruitment market as it currently stands for Accountancy, Financial Services and Legal professionals. Shay explained how Lincoln Recruitment has seen busy in Q1 of 2014, where market sentiment is overall optimistic. In Financial Services Lincoln has experienced a busy market with an increased pick up in private client’s areas as well as junior to mid-level hiring. Lincoln is also seeing a new focus on retail banking. Shay also noted that this positive market sentiment extended to the Accountancy sector whereLincoln has been very active across all levels with a specific uptake in C-level positions.  Shay shared his positive sentiment in the market for the remainder of the year in these key sectors predicting a more sustained pick up in Q4 opportunities. Shay outlined the recent success of Lincoln in the past year including the addition of seven new specialist consultants and Directors.

A little after 8am, Ronan took center stage and shared with the captivated audience the highs and lows of his sporting career so far.  Ronan began by discussing his early career days starting out in University College Cork where he studied a B.A. and subsequently a Master’s Degree, in Business Economics.  He shared the struggle at this time of juggling training twice a day with his studies. Ronan outlines that combining the two is now very much something of the past, as demanding player training schedules require full attention on the sport.

The Importance of Communication

Ronan spoke in depth about the importance of communication on the field as well as off.  He mentioned his initial starting days with the Munster squad with commanding leaders such as Anthony Foley, Mick Galway and the Claw, and how he initially found it very daunting to stand up to these “superstars” and make suggestions as to how he believed Munster could break down their opposition. He stated that this was gained through experience and “you don’t understand what experience is until you live through it”.

On communicating on the playing field, Ronan outlined how players such as Doug Howlett and Rua Tipoki,  were outstanding communicators, all the time communicating their intentions and locations and modestly recognized that they often made him look good when it came to great plays.

Off the pitch he explained the importance of post-match analysis and contributions from players. With Munster and Ireland an in-depth video analysis was combined with discussion and contribution from players after each game. He explained how it was vital for him to take notes and write down key learnings from each game, something that was absent in Racing Métro that he is now strongly involved in implementing. He stressed the importance of this in both a sporting and business environment, as the ability for the brain to concentrate and remember key points is limited to approximately six minutes. When he first moved to France he was surprised as to how silent teams and players could be, with little to no contribution and emphasised that the combined impact of increasing communication amongst players pre and post-match, was very powerful.

Leadership & Motivation

Ronan was a leader by example throughout his career.  He has captained Munster, Ireland, and the British and Irish Lions and won four Triple Crowns with Ireland and two Heineken Cups with Munster. Ronan stated the importance of having leaders in a team even to say that for a team to be successful “You need leaders in the double figures”.

In building a team Ronan highlighted unity as being the key necessary ingredient. He attributed to learning the most from Tony Mc Gahan of Munster as the leader who “triggered a lot of positive ideas in my mind”. Ronan describes his training and coaching as being very demanding of high standards, but this was something that worked well for him as his motivation to win, and drive to achieve was so high. Whilst he admitted that this strategy did not have the same impact on all players, perhaps crushing some younger players, it was one that stood out for him. He stated that leaders were most important in “generating a culture of excellence and high standards”. He cites Paul O Connell and Brian O Driscoll as two of the most influential players and leaders he has played with over the years.

Motivation & Work Ethic

Ronan gave a good insight into his motivation and work ethic. “As a player you should always be looking to improve, you need to tweak things to get that one percent improvement”.  He describes finding the best process to approaching different aspects of improving his game through experimenting, trial and error, “Finding what works well and sticking to it.” He warned of the over reliance of too much analysis to what he described as “paralysis by analysis”. He placed emphasis on going with processes that “feel natural” and when something feels right, you should go with it.

On Retiring  as a Player

Ronan discussed his last appearance at the Heineken Cup Quarter Finals and the game against Claremont , he described as follows “Something inside said that was it, it was time to get out.” The transition from a high profile ego-trip player to a member of support staff for another team was challenging, but some of the best advice he received before retiring  was;  “Don’t announce that you are retiring, announce what you are doing next.” He mentioned that there was a lot involved mentally, physically and emotionally in being a professional sports player and that over time it takes its toll on you. He described the life at times similar to “living in a bubble” acting very “self-centered” and how many aspects of your “life are on hold” having to make many sacrifices. He described rarely seeing some of his brothers and how a simple errand of getting a coffee with friends was more of a chore as he often didn’t want to engage with people and make contact.

He described how these feelings have now changed dramatically where he embraces the challenge of public speaking events, meeting new people and discussing his experiences as a professional sports player. His priorities in life have also changed and he described, entertainingly, how praying at Mass for a kick to go over, has been replaced with praying for the health and well-being of his family which is now foremost in his priorities – “ Keeping my family healthy is all that matters, all I ask for is the simple things and I’m  thankful for what I have.”

Coaching Career with Racing Métro

Ronan is now pursuing a career in coaching with Racing Métro. Ronan described life after being a professional player all about surviving and adapting to new challenges, “the show must go on”. While he initially signed the contract with a primary view to helping Johnny Sexton with his kicking, he finds it now slightly ironic that he is now a defense coach. He describes Racing Métro as having a fantastic training center and culture for rugby training from youth to senior level. Ronan outlined the importance of stepping back and seeing the bigger picture when it comes to training and coaching a team like Racing Métro. He explained that many of these teams have coaches boxed off eg attack, defense and scrum coaches but what is most important is looking at the bigger picture. His philosophy when it comes to coaching and leadership is strongly based on “getting the head right.” He states players are the most important element of the team and stresses “One hundred percent belief is crucial, and how you relay that information is even more crucial”.

Challenges for the Future

Whilst Johnny Sexton has recently extended his contract with Racing Métro dashing the hopes of many Leinster fans, Ronan admits that quality players  leaving for foreign clubs like Racing, will prove to be a big threat for Irish club rugby going forward. When questioned whether he would have liked to move to France during his career, Ronan admitted that whilst he was offered a good contract to move a number of years ago, Johnny was offered an “astronomical deal” that proved too hard to turn down. He described the threat of Irish players moving abroad to French clubs remaining strong as rugby is a “different monster” in France with the average players wages being incomparably high.

 On Advice for Young Players

“The ability to play different sports, I would see as being very important for young players, although nowadays due to professional training schedules it’s a lot harder to achieve. The ability for young players to transfer skills from Gaelic Football  to rugby  and soccer to rugby, is important.  Diversity is key as otherwise you may be setting yourself up for disappointment, don’t put all eggs in one basket.”

On his Biggest Disappointment

“I could write a book on disappointments. I had loads. In 2000 after missing four kicks in the Heineken Cup final I deprived medals for my teammates. Also the rugby World Cup in 2007, was a huge disappointment after training so hard and putting everything into it. Every year there are 2-3 occasions per season that determine whether you have balls or not. How you play under pressure is when you see a true reflection of character in players. They most important  thing is that I was lucky to be in that position every year as a result of working hard to get there.  Disappointments shape you, if you can take the right message from them, you can become a better person/player.”

On his Greatest Sporting Moment

“Without a doubt the Grand Slam win in Cardiff was my best moment. It was pretty special. It was fantastic to see the emotion on people’s faces, to see what it means to them.  Winning something for your country, it’s what it’s all about.”

Oh his Biggest Fear

“My Biggest fear is doubting yourself deep down and not backing yourself as much as you should. Thinking that the other person is better than you.”

In Summary

Ronan provided the audience with a direct and honest insight into the life of a professional sports player. He provided us with his opinions on leadership, performance, team building, communication, coaching and mentoring, as well as many other topics of relevance to the workplace. Ronan was was honest, eloquent, charming and witty and kept everyone’s attention for over an hour, which was no easy feat – a truly memorable morning.


For further pictures and a flavor of this event, click here. If you are interested in the slides from this event including an overview of the Irish recruitment market presented by MD of Lincoln, Shay Dalton you can find them here. See how our event unfolded on social media, along with some great quotes.



Shay Dalton avatar
Lincoln Recruitment Owner & Founder