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Pro coaching 'too full-on' for O'Connell as he enjoys watching Ireland change

The 41-year-old isn’t looking to get back into the game in a permanent coacing role.

Vodafone ambassador Paul O’Connell at the British & Irish Lions jersey launch for the 2021 tour of South Africa.
Vodafone ambassador Paul O’Connell at the British & Irish Lions jersey launch for the 2021 tour of South Africa.

AS THINGS STAND, Paul O’Connell’s rugby coaching revolves around a couple of underage teams at UL Bohemians and a bit of work with Young Munster’s senior squad whenever he gets a chance.

There’s no involvement in the professional game and O’Connell is happy about that.

He still enjoys watching top-level rugby intently, spending hours breaking the game down and discussing it with coaches, players, and referees. His analysis work goes beyond what would be expected of media pundits, but O’Connell simply loves the sport.

For now, though, he doesn’t feel any grá towards pro coaching. Having spent a frustrating 2018/19 season working under the old-school Heyneke Meyer at Stade Français in Paris, O’Connell is happy doing his media work, keeping other non-rugby interests active, and focusing on family.

“It’s a bit… it’s too full-on for me,” says O’Connell of pro coaching.

“We were over in Paris, where you have 40 games a season, about five hours to do on the video on Sunday, and you’re in on Monday and Tuesday – they are the longest, most intense days of your life. Some guys seem to enjoy it, they seem to thrive on it. I found it tricky from a family point of view.

“I enjoy watching rugby, I probably watch more than I ever have but I’m not looking to coach right now.

“It’s not something that whets my appetite very much at the moment. I love coaching, I love coaching kids, underage, I love helping out with my club team when I can. But I like having my weekends as well, so it’s a catch 22.

“It’s so enjoyable, it gives you such a sense of purpose but it doesn’t give much brain space for anything else in life.”

O’Connell points out that international coaching, in which he has previously been involved with the Ireland U20s, is different as it involves “12 or 13 very full-on weeks of the year, the rest of the time you can sit back, you can watch the game, you can refresh.”

paul-oconnell-with-james-ryan O'Connell with James Ryan at Ireland camp earlier this year. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The former Munster man was also in Ireland camp earlier this year at the invitation of Andy Farrell, with O’Connell sitting down with the likes of James Ryan and offering technical, tactical, and leadership insights.

O’Connell points to the benefits of the shorter Super Rugby seasons in the Southern Hemisphere giving coaches time watch other teams and get some personal development done, but really there is no attraction to any permanent role for O’Connell right now.

He’s speaking as a Vodafone British & Irish Lions ambassador and when asked if perhaps a call from Warren Gatland to head to South Africa in some capacity would appeal, he just laughs and points out that there is TV work lined up.

To have O’Connell involved on the broadcasting side of rugby is welcome for those who tune into the BBC or wherever else he pops up. His knowledge of the sport and ability to communicate in concise and clear terms make him one of the best co-commentators and pundits around.

O’Connell has enjoyed watching the beginnings of a shift in style for Ireland under Andy Farrell and will be as intrigued as everyone else as to how it goes for them in Paris this weekend with the Six Nations title on the line.

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“It would be a massive fillip for Ireland, particularly after changing over from Joe Schmidt because he was an incredible coach for Ireland. He made an amazing difference to Ireland but there is a real contrast in how Andy and his coaches want to play.

“It’s a difficult change to make, especially after being so successful, but I think the players are probably ready to make the change.

“It’s probably easy to always look at what Joe did and wonder if they should be doing a bit more of it. To get a championship would give everyone belief in their methods, to kick on and stick at what they’re doing.”

O’Connell believes that the four Irish provinces have to play a part in the shift and he feels that Monday’s offload-heavy performance from Munster against Cardiff Blues may indicate it’s already happening.

“There is definitely a movement towards trying to handle the ball a bit more and offload a bit more, forwards trying to pass a little bit more and I think there will be a lot of alignment from the provinces in terms of how Ireland are playing.

paul-oconnell O'Connell has been working on TV. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“If you look three years down the line at a World Cup, I think we will be very aligned and capable of doing some of the things we weren’t capable of doing in the last World Cup.”

Ahead of this weekend, O’Connell underlines how France have improved in 2020, how they are better at things like exiting, how they’re a little more structured than in the past but still with the power and ability to cut teams open in the blink of an eye.

Yet O’Connell also sees reason to be optimistic for Ireland.

“France will give you opportunities,” he says. “Look at the last two games, Scotland and a red card and defensive issues, the lack of control at the ruck against Wales, being behind on the penalty count. It’s up to Ireland to take those opportunities.

“In defence and attack, we’re really well-coached. We’ll also have the smarts from the Joe Schmidt stuff of not conceding penalties and opportunities for them to get into the game.

“It will be a lot more difficult than at the end of my career but we’re in a position of winning the game and scoring tries too.”

- Originally published at 06.00

Vodafone have also announced a new ‘Digital Lions’ Initiative that will allow rugby fans to virtually become a British and Irish Lion for the first time. 

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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