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Page last updated at 10:26 GMT, Friday, 15 May 2009 11:26 UK

Catt is 'ultimate pro' - O'Shea

Conor O'Shea
O'Shea spent 10 years at Irish as player and coach

Former London Irish and Ireland full-back Conor O'Shea has hailed Mike Catt as the game's "ultimate professional".

The 37-year-old Catt is set to start for the Exiles in the Premiership Final at Twickenham on Saturday.

O'Shea told BBC Berkshire: "He's an incredible role model, the way he plays and goes about his business."

Former Ireland captain Keith Wood added: "He is an old amateur and that sort of independent spirit typifies what London Irish is about."

O'Shea added he has been enjoying the Exiles' approach again this season.

"The way this team goes about its rugby is a joy to behold. It's physical but it's played with such width. They play with joy and with a smile on their faces, epitomised by Mike Catt at fly-half.

Last week I was sitting in the stand, shouting like an absolute lunatic for Irish to beat my team of eight years.

Keith Wood

"A lot of people raised their eye-brows five years ago when he was first brought to the club and said he was too old and past it. He's still showing everyone how it's done."

England attack coach, Brian Smith, who was director of rugby at Irish until last season said the future is rosy for this Irish team.

"I really think the team's come of age. When we started three or four season ago it was a very young group of players and they've matured nicely. The next two or three seasons will be the most productive for the team."

Wood, formerly of Harlequins, is now on the Exiles' board of directors. He admitted that sometimes put him in an awkward position.

"I always had a love-hate relationship with London Irish. I had a huge number of my friends playing for them, but I always wanted to beat them as I was playing for Quins.

Keith Wood
Wood: once a Quin, now an Exile

"Now I find myself in the unusual position of sitting on the board of London Irish. Last week I was sitting in the stand, shouting like an absolute lunatic for Irish to beat my team of eight years."

And he said a win for the Exiles would cap a great year for Irish rugby.

"Rugby in Ireland is very much the fourth or even fifth sport. But that's started to change and its percolated up to the top over the last four or five years.

"And then you have London Irish - you'd never think of them up at the final of the Premiership, but they've always played something irresistible.

"It goes back to Conor O'Shea. Conor was often shackled playing for Ireland, and never shackled when playing for London Irish. He played the most free-flowing rugby you could imagine and they were always unpredictable.

"Now they've had common sense brought into them this year, yet they are still the most difficult team to analyse and prepare for because they play this free game."

London Irish versus Harlequins kicks off at 1730 BST on Saturday, 16 May and is live on BBC Berkshire.

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