Inpho/Billy Stickland
RWC 2015

O'Connell determined to maximise time in 'exciting' Ireland setup

Life is good with the Six Nations champions, and the captain wants to keep it that way leading up to next year’s World Cup.

PAUL O’CONNELL COULDN’T help but allow on some of the infectious enthusiasm seep in ahead of Ireland’s 24-hour mini-camp in Dublin yesterday.

The Ireland captain took a phonecall from his Munster team-mate James Cronin. And the prop on the other end of the line was simply overjoyed that one of his stated targets for the season had been reached.

“He was incredibly excited and delighted to be called up,” O’Connell said at the team’s Clyde Court Hotel base yesterday.

“I think that brought a bit of a smile to my face. There’s a great buzz here this morning already.”

“The way the season’s finished for us in Munster is disappointing. To have been in two semi-finals and not to have won either, or performed as well as we would have like to, is really disappointing. But the buzz around the Irish camp after winning the Six Nations, the buzz around the few new players here does give you a lift.

“It’s an exciting time to be involved in Ireland and I’m looking forward to the next two weeks of prep and I’m looking forward to the tour as well.

“It’s always great to see guys in the squad with the asterisk beside their name and no caps. Their enthusiasm is infectious. I know James Cronin for the last season has been a pleasure to be around.”

That added excitement was no doubt added to by a number of players included in the group despite being omitted from the squad to tour Argentina. Ian Madigan, Craig Gilroy and Tommy O’Donnell were among those earmarked for the Emerging Ireland squad, but they were brought to training yesterday and ready for promotion should any injuries befall the original 30-man squad.

The group will disband again after the short, sharp camp ends later this morning with players returning to their province with or without a competitive game to look forward to. However, with opportunities presented to players wishing to stake a claim for midfield, blindside flanker and prop it is unlikely that there will be much easing off the pedal before the flight to South American on June 1 – the day after the Pro12 Grand Final.

O’Connell, 34,  admits that the ‘influence and confidence’ of Brian O’Driscoll will be missed around the international setup, but also points at a group who have each taken greater leadership responsibility even before the centre’s retirement.

Paul O'Connell 3/2/2002 DIGITAL O'Connell, scoring on his debut against Wales in 2002. INPHO INPHO

As for the skipper’s own longevity, he is well aware that the clock is ticking, but is determined to make the most of his remaining career. Starting, hopefully, by steering clear of injuries and committing fully to pre-season training:

“I have to manage my training. It’s unfortunate not to be involved in any finals, but I’ve a nice two-week window to train and prepare for the tour.

“I’m hopeful of getting a good pre-season. I haven’t had one since the pre-season we had for the World Cup in 2011. And it really is hard to perform at the best of your ability when you don’t have that pre-season under your belt.

“For me, it’s about getting that good pre-season in, playing next year, managing my body like I did this year and hopefully get a good pre-season in next year before the World Cup.

“It is all about maximising time and trying to be as good as I can be when I do play.”

And as long as the young faces and asterisked names continue to strengthen the group, the captain can keep on guiding them in the right direction and feeding off their enthusiasm.

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