Treasure Island Tournament Preview + Kevin O'Connor Interview

October 21, 2016

Treasure Island Tournament and Interview with Kevin O’Connor

By: Christian Portillo

MORAGA, CALIF. - After placing second in the first leg of the 6th Annual West Coasts Sevens Tournament in San Luis Obispo two weeks ago, Saint Mary’s will be on the pitch again this weekend as part of the SFGG sponsored tournament at Treasure Island.

The Gaels, who won the West Coast Sevens Tournament in both 2011 and 2012, in addition to being the 2016 USA College 7s National Champions, defeated Grand Canyon University in the opening round 26-7 before beating UC Davis. They proceeded to defeat Arizona State 10-7 before ultimately falling to Cal in the Final by a lopsided score of 38-5.

Not satisfied with how the Final ended, Saint Mary’s will look to redeem themselves this weekend as a part of Pool B, along with Arizona, San Diego State, and UC Santa Barbara. Their first match will take place on Saturday, October 22nd, at Field 1 precisely at 10:40 A.M. against UC Santa Barbara. The Gaels will switch over to Field 2 to play San Diego State at 12:20 P.M. They will then take a quick lunch break to recover before taking the pitch against Arizona at Field 1 at 3:00 P.M.

In anticipation of the two day tournament at the one and only Treasure Island, Gael Rugby was able to catch up with team captain Kevin O’Connor to talk all things rugby.

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Note: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

On building off of last year’s momentum and growing together as a team this season…

I look at last year’s [national championship] loss at home as if it couldn’t have got much worse than it did. I look at it as a really good thing because [the loss] gives guys the hunger back that they lost last year because they thought it would be handed to us. I’ll never forget the feeling of losing in front of the home crowd. In my mind I want to feel redemption. What didn’t you do last year that you could’ve done? What are you going to do differently this year to make sure this doesn’t happen again? Getting together every Monday and Wednesday morning has been huge because you get to see the new guys and who has come back to start the year on a good note. [During the] morning sessions and lifts everyone has been super focused-there are lots of great leaders that are pushing the younger guys.

On his individual and team goals for this year…

Not coming back to lose again. Enjoy it. Get everybody in the right spot. When you make it about yourself is when you lose and crumble. My objective is to get the weaker parts of the team stronger because you are only as strong as your weakest link. My goal is to have seamless effort across the board. Never die, never give up. Play with each other and play as a team. There is always room for sacrifice. I want to reinstill that culture where it is always for the team.

On teammates he predicts will take their games to the next level…

Mike McCarthy [will be] getting a bigger role [this season]. Vili Helu is in big shoes [and so are] Alec Barton and Alejandro Duran. I’m looking forward to seeing where new guys fit in because there is always a changing of the guard-who is going to step up. You never know who is going to step up and who wants it.

On which opponents he is looking forward to playing the most this year…

I’m looking forward to the tougher games-against the men’s clubs and the first game against Chico State on November 5th to see what we need to work on. [Playing against the] men’s clubs show us how much intensity we need to bring and sets the tone for the start of the year. It is not about being dirty, but being ruthless and aggressive. We want gradual increases over time and don’t want to peak early. It comes at the price of giving it all in practice-that is where you see the results.

On the best parts of the rugby program at SMC and how it has helped him develop as a person…

The best part of playing with Saint Mary’s and the guys on the team is that the guys who play the most and are the best are the most selfless. You start to realize that there is something greater than yourself. This translates into the way you live and by making sacrifices for your friends and family.

On playing for Coaches Tim O’Brien and Johnny Everett…

Unbelievable! When we practiced with Cal Poly, they had a 15 minute film session. Tim already had film online and took notes after the 3:00 P.M. practice and had a 45-50 minute segment detailing every single thing. [The Mustangs] were just blown away and had never seen anything like it. It is second nature for us. The standard is that we are together seven days a week. Sunday film session is almost as important as the six days before it because we learn what needs to be improved. They are two of the best and most involved coaches in the country-they both have lots of experience and connections. Johnny is the best forwards coach in college and Tim is in a league of his own.

On the difference between playing 7s and XVs…

The emphasis in sevens is much more fast-paced. In sevens you don’t have time to get down on yourself or to second guess yourself. If you do that, you’ll get scored on or make a mistake. Sevens is so fast that you need to pick it up and have a short term memory.

Message for all of the Gael Rugby fans, parents, supporters, and alumni…

I look back at last year’s championship game and it is amazing to see how many people are supporting you and are behind you, even in your lowest moment and in the pouring rain. Especially the alumni. When you say thank you, it goes beyond the thank you-it is a lot more special than that-our fanbase is just incredible. I would just like to say a big, big thank you to our alumni since they are the backbone of our team and program. Without them supporting the team and fundraisers we wouldn't be at the level we are at. From the bottom of our hearts as a team, thank you, everyone is very gracious.

On the upcoming tournament…

We need to upbeat the intensity in practice. We need the gut check, the humility, and games like the championship and the Cal game to get back to ground zero in order to reevaluate what we are doing. This weekend should be interesting.

Gael Rugby would like to thank Kevin O’Connor for giving his time and thoughts for this article.