'If you messed up in lineouts there was a death stare. That's the worst'

Paul O’Connell has returned to Ireland camp this week.

CIAN HEALY HAS enjoyed seeing Paul O’Connell back in Ireland camp this week but it also brought up an uncomfortable memory. 

Former Ireland lock O’Connell has been brought on board by head coach Andy Farrell to observe their preparation for Sunday’s Six Nations clash with England, offering feedback and engaging with players on a one-on-one basis, particularly the younger members of the squad.

Healy played with O’Connell for Ireland for over six years, so he knew the legendary Munster lock very well, but he can see that the youngsters in Ireland’s squad are benefiting from dealing with O’Connell.

paul-oconnell-supported-by-cian-healy-run-at-yoann-maestri James Crombie / INPHO Healy supports O'Connell at the 2015 World Cup. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

When he was first breaking through himself, Healy found O’Connell approachable off the pitch but he learned the hard way with regards to how demanding the second row was on the training pitch, even when Healy was an established player himself.

“He was very approachable, laughing and giggling and all that but if you messed up in lineouts there was a death stare,” said Healy this week. “That’s the worst.

“Actually, at the last World Cup [in 2015] I messed up three in a row, I got the death stare and then I had a panic attack. Lineouts was canned, I was brought off to the side by the doc, and the lads were just staring. So that’s the height of that one.

“Don’t mess up lineouts!”

O’Connell was observed in conversation with 23-year-old lock James Ryan at Ireland training this week, something that excited many supporters. Ryan has been compared to O’Connell before and Healy sees some likeness in their leadership abilities.

“You’d be watching how he [O'Connell] played, you can see a lot of it in the way James Ryan is as a ball-carrier, that front-foot stuff. If someone does that in a team, that’s infectious, it gets everyone doing that.

“You see when opposition defences are hitting you back and hitting you back, you end up having more soaks and more collisions lost. But when you’re on that front foot and someone starts it, goes through that line first, then you’re on top and you’re the ones winning the collisions, you’re the ones over the line.

“There’s a couple of people like that that put their teams into those positions and he would have been one of them.”

paul-oconnell-with-james-ryan Dan Sheridan / INPHO O'Connell at Ireland training on Wednesday. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Healy says O’Connell was “a high emotional builder” in his time as Ireland captain, capable of hair-raising pre-match speeches that had team-mates bursting with aggression and energy. 

The game has changed, though, according to Healy.

“It’s very technical and calm-headed but you do have the little chats to spark that fire and once it’s sparked and ready, you leave it go and the rest of it has to be cool-headed about the job in hand and making sure everything’s on song.”

In that sense, Healy feels that new Ireland captain Johnny Sexton is doing a great job so far.

“He has a real focus on family – the family in here and the family that everyone has at home,” explained Healy.

“I think that’s pretty important to everyone because a lot of the lads, when they’re in camp, are spending a long time away from home. To have reminders about why you do it, why you want to do it, why you enjoy it – that’s pretty good.

“He’s a very passionate leader and it’s pretty nice to be following him.”

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