IRELAND AND MUNSTER lock Paul O’Connell believes his current back injury is likely to rob him of a spot on the plane to Australia for the upcoming British and Irish Lions Tour.
The 33-year-old, who underwent surgery on New Year’s Eve to correct a bulging disc in his back which has sidelined him for the majority of the season, is on the road to recovery but doesn’t expect to return to action until April – meaning Declan Kidney must do without his services for the entire Six Nations tournament.
And with Warren Gatland choosing a 35-strong squad to head Down Under this summer, O’Connell admits he isn’t expecting a call-up due to the extended absence.
“You never rule (the Lions Tour) out but it is going to be very difficult,” O’Connell told Newstalk’s Off The Ball last night. “You would imagine the Lions squad is going to be picked on the Six Nations, so it is going to be very difficult to make it on that trip.”
“I just had a bulging disc that came out and it’s difficult. What happens is when the bulge comes out it’s like a piece of toothpaste coming out of an onion and that normally hits the nerve and causes you pain.
When it retreats, the pain goes with it but when mine was retreating it was wrapped around the nerve and was pulling it. Instead of it retreating and getting better it was just plateauing and staying the same the whole time.”
A former Lions captain, the second row spoke positively about his fitness problems and although some have suggested it might be best for his long-term health to call time on his illustrious career, O’Connell is looking forward to returning and says he believes there is “light at the end of the tunnel”.
O’Connell during the 2009 Lions Tour. Credit: INPHO/Billy Stickland
“There weren’t dark days as such. I’ve never had a problem with an injury as long as you’re working towards something and there is light at the end. That was one of the problems with the groin injury a few years ago. It’s very frustrating when it’s just rumbling on and the games are getting bigger and bigger.
You’re going to training and unfortunately you’re on the sideline with a woolly hat on and a big jacket. It’s very frustrating not being part of it when you’ve been part of it for so long. I wouldn’t call them dark days – just very frustrating.
“It’s funny, once the decision is made, and the physio was over in my house last night planning a route back to playing, it gives you a good buzz and you feel better.
“I feel there is light at the end of the tunnel now. The surgeon is very happy with (the operation), the medical team are very happy with it. I’m just looking forward to getting back and playing.”