BE PART OF THE TEAM

Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership

Become A Member
Dublin: 10°C Saturday 16 January 2021
Advertisement

Farewell to Paul O'Connell, the greatest leader Ireland ever had

The Fear of God just about does him justice.

– This piece was first published on Sunday 11 October. The IRFU confirmed on Tuesday that O’Connell has been ruled out of the rest of the Rugby World Cup.

Sean Farrell reports from the Millennium Stadium

IT WAS HORRIBLE to watch.

Like a slow-motion scene from a tragic war movie, Paul O’Connell delved as deep as he has ever dug inside himself. After a horrible twist of the knee, the play went on in front of him. He looked up, forced his mighty hands into the turf and heaved himself off the grass, only for another bullet of pain to put him down again.

Paul O'Connell tries to get to his feet before being stretchered off the field O'Connell attempted to walk off the field, but the pain was too much. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

His troops could see him writhing in agony 30 yards ahead on the horizon, but they couldn’t waste time worrying. They had to continue on as if were O’Connell was still standing by their side, roaring orders and pushing through tackle after tackle.

Joe Schmidt admitted the injury to his captain doesn’t look good, but if his prognosis of an upper hamstring problem is correct there’s an outside chance this is not in fact the end. We dearly hope so. Because being carted off at half-time is a cruel way for the fates to end a Test career as brilliant as O’Connell’s 108.

Paul O'Connell down injured Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

From his first day in green he added something to Ireland’s pack, an edge. His debut brought what would be a rare try and a concussion picked up in the process robbed him of the memory. As the caps mounted though, O’Connell’s sheer presence naturally made him much more than an enforcer, he was a leader, a presence, a force that inspired team-mates to go beyond what they thought was necessary. They wanted to be the best for Paulie.

The Fear of God just about does him justice. O’Connell’s immortal words for the historic first rugby Test at Croke Park provided the perfect insight in to an athlete who turns from a gentle giant off the field, to a man possessed when the boots go on.

Source: Mark Conroy/YouTube

And yet, even his inspirational speeches sell him short. O’Connell is a superb technician, a genius line-out caller and a tireless worker.

Ireland must go on without their greatest ever leader now. He first entered a squad at a low ebb, a rabble in many ways. But his dedication to improving every aspect of his fitness and his game have helped to create the culture that now demands to finish first.

Paul O'Connell and his son Paddy after the game Before the tournament, O'Connell said his fondest memories in green were the days he could celebrate with his son Paddy. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

He’ll hobble out of his Ireland career after dominating the second of two Six Nations Championships and guiding Ireland to a second straight top placing in a World Cup pool.

The injury means we, most likely, won’t see him play again until he pulls on the red jersey of Toulon and that hardly seems unfair. Ireland, the team and the public will miss him greatly, but we should be thankful just to have watched him play so often in green. Because he emptied the tank every single time and kept trying to give us more.

Thanks Paulie.

Archive>> O’Connell’s greatest days were the ones his son shared the taste of victory

Ian Madigan’s tears after beating France will make you proud to be Irish

About the author:

Sean Farrell

Read next:

COMMENTS (75)