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Dublin: 10°C Saturday 24 October 2020

O'Connell refusing the fanfare ahead of final ever Munster appearance

The legendary lock is set for his last cap in the famous red jersey in this weekend’s Pro12 final.

IT’S A MEASURE of the man that Paul O’Connell is heading into his final game for Munster without having officially and categorically stated it as such.

Paul O'Connell salutes the crowd after the game O'Connell bid Thomond Park farewell last weekend. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Try as he might though, the legendary second row will get the tributes his incredible career with the southern province deserves as Anthony Foley’s side prepare for the Guinness Pro12 final against Glasgow Warriors on Saturday.

O’Connell himself is simply nailing down his preparation, same as always. Extensive analysis work, lots of prehab, foam rolling and stretching, deep thought about taking on Al Kellock’s lineout and ensuring that those around him are as focused as necessary.

Team before individual; O’Connell never wanted it to be anything other than that.

For head coach Foley, the Ireland captain’s insistence that this week cannot become all about him is simply perfect. It will be tempting and natural for Foley to use O’Connell’s farewell as a motivational tool closer to Saturday’s final in Belfast, but for now it’s not a repeatedly articulated focus within the Munster group.

“It will be the last time he wears the red jersey, but we’re not even really talking about it,” said Foley at Thomond Park this afternoon.

Paul O'Connell O'Connell at training in Thomond Park earlier today. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“It’s in the back of everyone’s minds around what it is and what the game is, but we’ve been preaching long enough about what our job is and making sure we’re getting the performance right.”

The fact that O’Connell has had such trouble making up his own mind about his future after the World Cup has played into the situation of course, but Foley believes it’s typical of O’Connell to be going out without the fanfare others have welcomed.

I think that’s the way everyone wants to go out, job done, walk away, get onto something else,” said Foley. “I think that’s brilliant on Paul’s behalf and that’s the way he’s managed it. That’s the way he wants it to go and we’ll support him on that, back him on that.”

Nonetheless, we can be certain that Munster’s players will bring an extra degree of passion and work rate to the mix at Kingspan Stadium in honour of O’Connell, a man many of them feel it’s been an honour to play alongside.

Seeing him off with a Pro12 winner’s medal would be the ideal parting gift, even if each individual carries their own, separate motivations into the contest.

Another player leaving after this weekend’s league decider is centre Andrew Smith, and despite having spent only one season playing with O’Connell, the Australian centre will cherish the experience.

Paul O'Connell O'Connell at Thomond Park in his last week as a Munster player. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“He’s a huge figure back home as well. He’s the kind of guy you’ve always watched playing and admired him from afar,” said Smith.

“To actually play with him was a privilege and something you’ll remember forever. You learn a lot from the way he carries himself, his leadership and how professional he is.

“He’s just one of those guys who lifts everyone, just having his presence there. It was an amazing experience.”

One last push for Paulie, whatever about his insistence that this final is not about him.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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