Sunday 29 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
# Giddy
Paul O'Connell: 'We were like a bunch of guys going on a school tour'
The Ireland captain is filled with excitement at the prospect of getting the World Cup underway.

PAUL O’CONNELL IS so often the man who sets the tone for this Ireland squad, and if his humour today in Cardiff is anything to judge by then Joe Schmidt’s players are absolutely raring to get started.

Their World Cup campaign begins on Saturday at the Millennium Stadium, after they flew into the Welsh capital yesterday evening.

Ireland were the final team to arrive to the global tournament, preferring to finish their preparations at home in Carton House, but the excitement was palpable when they boarded their flight.

Paul O'Connell on the charge Billy Stickland / INPHO O'Connell is set for his fourth World Cup with Ireland. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

O’Connell is taking part in his fourth World Cup with Ireland, having played in 2003, 2007 and 2011, and admits that his experience as captain will be different to his first involvement on this stage.

The excitement remains similar.

“Yeah, it is (still exciting), massively,” said O’Connell at the Cardiff Marriott Hotel this afternoon.

It’s probably very different too. When I went in ’03 I was a young guy, I didn’t have any of the pressures that the senior players probably had in that tournament, certainly around the Argentina game and what qualification meant financially to the union, things like that.

“I went there having had a good summer tour in Samoa and Tonga, was delighted to get picked and just really enjoyed the tournament. I think Woody and Axel and these guys were probably the senior guys on the tour and probably took a lot of the pressure.

“For me, it was a very different experience to what it is now. Yesterday coming over, we were like a bunch of guys going on a school tour. It was a very giddy flight and bus trip to the hotel here.

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Paul O'Connell Dan Sheridan / INPHO O'Connell at this afternoon's press conference in Cardiff. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“Preparation has gone really well for the team and myself. I haven’t missed many training sessions, which is great.

“It’s nice to get here and get here in good shape as well, having played a good few games and having trained for whatever it is, 10 or 11 weeks. The excitement is massive, probably more than the first one because I know there’s no more (World Cups) to come.”

While the on-pitch matters are what excite O’Connell most about his latest adventure, the support Ireland will bring with them to Wales and onwards to London is also a major part of the feeling.

Already there are green jerseys showing up in Cardiff, and O’Connell looks back to 2011 in New Zealand hoping that more of the same is coming for Ireland.

The Millennium Stadium is where the journey begins on Saturday, and O’Connell is looking forward to playing in that brilliant venue with the bulk of the crowd on his side.

Paul O'Connell Dan Sheridan / INPHO O'Connell enjoyed his 2011 World Cup experience. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“I’ve been there with the vast majority cheering for us before, with Munster, but I think one of the big things about four years ago at the World Cup was what the Irish fans provided for us in terms of atmosphere and support,” said O’Connell.

It made it an incredible experience for us and I think it’s been similar in the Aviva in recent years. One of the big hopes for us is that they bring that across the water.

“The fact that there was so many people travelling down in Australia and New Zealand meant there was a lot of Irish people and there was a big party atmosphere down there.

“It is one of the big memories from the last World Cup for a lot of the lads. Hopefully that is replicated now in the next few games.”

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