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Paul O’Connell dreaming of a Christmas that's anything but light

The lock will be free of the pressure of imminent games, but hopes to be fully immersed in his rehab programme.

TOULON STILL FEELS a long way away for Paul O’Connell.

Paul O'Connell Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Since speaking with us in early November after two weeks ‘flat on his back’, the second row has managed to extend the range of motion of his right leg. The brace helping his hamstring fuse back onto his thigh has loosened out a bit and he hopes a visit to a specialist this week will allow him be rid of it.

After that, it’s not exactly full steam ahead, but maybe the wheels of recovery can slowly crank in to motion.

“Like everyone else, I want to do it in four months, five months maximum,” the former Ireland skipper tells The42.

“But you just have to be patient and disciplined and listen to your body with an injury like this.”

As for his new employers, his new life and his new home in the southern French city of Toulon: all of that has to wait while the Limerick man goes through the painstaking process of bringing his body, not just his excruciating hamstring injury, back in to shape.

“It’s about getting off the crutches and assessing where I am with the injury before I can make any decisive decisions. Apart from getting driven somewhere to do these things for sponsors and going for a bit of grub with mates, I haven’t done a whole lot in the last few weeks because of the crutches and brace. Until I’m out of it, I’m not making many plans.”

So it’s another winter in Limerick rather than Toulon for O’Connell and family. However, the timing of the injury means that O’Connell is not looking for a silver lining in the form of a quiet Christmas, light on work commitments and heavy on family and indulgences. By the end of December, he is hoping that the brace and crutches have been thrown in a corner of the garage and replaced by regularly scheduled re-strengthening.

“You could re-injure this picking something off the ground, because that stretches your hamstring. And if you’re packing up a house, you’d be picking plenty of stuff off the ground.

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Paul O'Connell O'Connell made it out of the house to pick up an honorary doctorate from UL. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“It’s a question of just being careful with it, so if I put pressure on myself to move down too quickly I’d be worried I could end up setting myself back. I’ve to see the surgeon and chat to the physio, just trying to do the right thing and not rush in to anything.”

And with a mind on Christmas week in particular, he adds:

“You can switch off a little bit and maybe eat a bit more of what you’d like, one or two drinks. But I think at that stage, I’ll be fairly heavy into the rehab.

“I think while you’re still playing, or while you still intend on playing anyway, the brain is probably switched off a little bit from indulging in Christmas – I might do in two years’ time. For me there won’t be a game around St Stephen’s Day or New Year’s Eve or whatever that I would normally have. So while I’ll probably be keeping an eye on myself a little bit, you won’t have the stress of the game going through the back of my head on Christmas Day when everyone else is relaxing.”

Ripping your hamstring off the bone is even more unpleasant than it sounds, but O’Connell attempts to diminish his suffering by calling the injury ‘more common in rugby’ due to the regular arching poach or jackal position players get themselves into. We all know that O’Connell is the archetype of tough, but perhaps that sort of internal message does no harm to the healing process either. Particularly when he is tackling the few ‘plans’ he does have – mini consultations with the experts who have seen this sort of thing before.

“There’s been very little physio: I’ve met a guy once or twice a week, just to chat about it. He did a small bit of stretching on it, loosening out, but there’s very, very little to be done at the moment. You just have to let it heal.

“Once it’s healed, it’s just about making it strong. I haven’t started that phase yet, it’s a little bit away.

“I’ve done very little since the operation. When you get the injury you spend so long on crutches, spend so long off your feet that you lose quite a bit of muscle mass and strength. So it’s about being very careful at the start and then having an experienced physio that’s seen this injury before, knows the pitfalls.”

Here’s hoping O’Connell gets to enjoy a busy Christmas, free of pitfalls, crutches and too much time on the couch.

  • Paul O’Connell was speaking to launch Three’s new Christmas TV ad Perfect Surprise in which he called into this Athenry school. 

Source: Three Ireland/YouTube

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