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Why Paul O'Connell deserves to be named RTÉ Sports Person of the Year

Until the veteran lock tore the hamstring off the bone for his country, Ireland was having an incredibly good 2015.

THE SHORTLIST FOR RTÉ Sports Person of the Year is packed with worthy contenders, but ahead of Saturday night’s ceremony, three nominees stand out from the rest of the 2015 field.

First up, Sean Farrell makes the case for Paul O’Connell…

He has the freedom of a city, an honorary doctorate and 108 caps for his country, but there’s just not enough acclaim we can lay at the feet of Paul O’Connell.

The panel awarding the RTÉ Sports Person of the Year would be erasing 10 months of 2015 if they were to overlook O’Connell for this last gong before he ships out to Toulon to ice the cake that is his career.

Paul O'Connell and Sean O'Brien wrap up Dougie Fife Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland’s finest ever rugby forward (and arguably player) had a phenomenal 2015. Many will think ‘Irish Rugby’ and point to the disappointing quarter-final exit at the hands of Argentina, but what was the reason for that meltdown? Who set Ireland up to dig deep for the grueling win over France that avoided a collision with the All Blacks?

Paulie.

O’Connell began 2015 as a 35-year-old with nothing to prove, but went on to have his best international year ever.

In a Six Nations Championship that sparked to life with scintillating rugby in a climactic final day, O’Connell drew a consistency from his squad that ensured Ireland won back-to-back titles for the first time since 1948-49 without the desperate need to rack up a cricket score before the curtain fell.

O’Connell is one of those rare breeds of players who do more than just contribute their own skill-set to influence a game. Players who take the field with him speak of a ‘fear’ of letting him down, so just by being on the field the second row is making the side 5-10% better.

Paul O'Connell celebrates his try with teammates Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Pre-match, off the field O’Connell ticks every box as a great leader too. After the Millennium Stadium win over France, flanker Chris Henry reported floods of tears after O’Connell had brought the troops in  for a little encouragement. Yet that intensity is more often than not tempered by an affable, approachable personality with a razor sharp wit.

O’Connell though, is no mascot. No mere motivational speaker. Personally, he keeps up his end of the bargain with a slavish devotion to improving the technical elements of his game while also keeping a 35-year-old frame at the top of the game.

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Whatever the affect he has on those around him, O’Connell made himself a clear choice for Six Nations Player of the Year – let that sink in for a second, a lock, not a flash young back or line-breaking back row.

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On each and every occasion his country needed him, he showed up all guns blazing. He led the charge in a tight and tense win at home to England. When the tide was turned on Ireland in Wales, he took the role of Moses, attempting to blow it back… he even scored a few tries before his final Test appearance finally arrived like a bullet to the back of his leg.

Tomorrow, Ciarán Gallagher argues in favour of world boxing champion Michael Conlan…

Munster and Ireland legend Paul O’Connell has been unveiled as a Toulon player

‘That’s a fine’: Paulie lays down the law when a phone interrupts Joe Schmidt

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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