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It's a year to the day since Paul O'Connell's brilliant career ended in agony

“It wasn’t a bad way to go out,” says the legendary lock now that his hamstring injury has healed.

OCTOBER 11 2015 was a pivotal day in Irish rugby.

Rarely have the oft-thrown-around war terms and phrases been so applicable to a Test. The Rugby World Cup Pool D decider against France was blood and thunder. First Jonathan Sexton pulled up and was smashed by Louis Picamoles as he attempted to test the injury out. Peter O’Mahony was sidelined until this very month with ruptured knee ligaments and, in between them, a career-ending hamstring rip was the worst of the lot.

Yoann Maestri and Paul O'Connell Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Paul O’Connell feared the worst instantly. Though it would be a few months before it was confirmed that the horrific hamstring injury would keep him from plying his trade in Toulon. He had laced up his boots for the last time as a professional.

Two things were immediately clear:

1. Paul O’Connell was in excruciating pain – enough to keep him grounded in midfield while Ireland defended a French attack before the half-time whistle.

2. Paul O’Connell would not play again for Ireland.

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

“It wasn’t a bad way to go out,” the Munster great told The42 yesterday, “captaining Ireland in a World Cup against France, where we put in a great performance and beat them well.

It was probably a good thing in terms of my physical health. I’d say 18 months in France would have been very tough, physically, on me. I think now I’m in a very good place physically.

“I suppose when you’re playing, you don’t think about the future and how healthy you need to be after you finish. Whereas when you’re out of the game a little while… I definitely now say to myself: ‘thank God I got out when I did’. I’m in a really good place physically now and that’s really important.”

12 months on, O’Connell is fit and able for everyday life after rehabbing the injury and he has made sure there hasn’t had much opportunity to feel any boredom his his life after rugby.

Paul O'Connell's jersey Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Aside from his business interests and this week’s whistlestop tour to promote his absorbing autobiography The Battle, he has spent time with Mike Prendergast in Grenoble, played a mentoring role (and nine holes) at the Ryder Cup and has unleashed his knowledge on the next generation of Munster player with a coaching role in the academy at UL.

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“I’ve been on a few holidays with the family too,” he hastens to add, “which has been great.

“I have to say, so far anyway,  I’ve really enjoyed retirement.”

As Les Kiss pointed out to his sidelined skipper in a Cardiff hospital, a warrior like O’Connell – who was forever at the heart of the action – could only have exited such a brutal battlefield lying on his shield.

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Sean Farrell

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