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Friday 3 February 2023 Dublin: 10°C
# life in the old dog yet
Paul O'Connell 'in incredible nick, he could go for another 5 years!'
Donnacha Ryan knows the skipper better than most, and he’d be happy to have him still knocking around the team hotel.

Sean Farrell reports from Cardiff

“IT’S VERY SAD to think the final image of Paul O’Connell in an Irish jersey would be him in a wheelchair, being taken out the back of the stadium,” says Donnacha Ryan, hitting the nail square on the head as usual.

Paul O'Connell Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

The Tipperary man has worked with O’Connell closer than anybody over the years. So the realisation that – barring a call to the Ryan household from Mourad Boudjellal – the two Munster locks won’t get the chance to play in harness together again.

However, despite feeling the agony that was written all over the Ireland captain’s face, Ryan also knows the 35-year-old well enough to know he can bounce back and still enjoy that Indian Summer in Toulon, where he has a two-year contract.

Donnacha Ryan and Paul O'Connell Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“He’s actually in incredible nick, so he could probably keep going for another five,” Ryan said, only half-joking.

“I think he’ll still be flying through it in another two years’ time, so who knows what he’ll want to do then.”

Despite the sadness he obviously feels for his long-time team-mate and, indeed, his friend; O’Connell’s untimely exit from the Test arena has actually opened the door for Ryan to make his mark at the business end of this World Cup.

The 31-year-old must have felt a little on the outside of the conversation in the pool stage of the tournament when all the chatter was about whether O’Connell should be partnered by Iain Henderson or Devin Toner.

Paul O'Connell and Donnacha Ryan Billy Stickland / INPHO Ryan takes POC for a walk during Ireland training in 2014. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

If he does step straight in for O’Connell this weekend he will be bringing plenty of the skipper’s intellectual property with him.

“Years ago, I was maybe considering leaving Munster and he was a huge incentive to stay.

“When you’re training and playing with the best in the world every day of the week it does make you better, and the habits he has are infectious to you, and that’s made me a far better player.

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“It’s definitely something I’m humbled to have even experienced.”

Donnacha Ryan Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Now that O’Connell has been officially replaced in Ireland’s World Cup squad, he will not be part of the dressing gathering this weekend. However, the captain and leader of this group is still with the team in their Cardiff city centre base, quietly hobbling here and there on crutches.

“He’s been great (since he got back from hospital). He was obviously very disappointed, but he’s a very much next-thing kind of guy, he wants to get on with it, you know the story. There’s no point in feeling sorry for yourself, so he just gets on with it, and he knows what he has to do now.

“It was great chatting away with him, he’s still slagging away, so things don’t change too much.”

He is still, and always will be, a fantastic player. He’s the best in the world. The best compliment I could pass him is that every time I was playing with him, I was never really occupied with my opposite number.

“It was more a question of trying to match the player alongside me and try to perform the same as he was. I knew that if I did, I’d be in a good place.

“He’ll be sorely missed but he’s still a great mate so hopefully we’ll see him again soon.”

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