constant abuse

'If I could take back the times I used to slag John Hayes, I would' -- Paul O'Connell

Regrets, Paul O’Connell has a few as he heads in to his final international on home turf.

AFTER ONE HUNDRED and two caps, Paul O’Connell doesn’t need any more telling that you reap what you sow.

He was among the first of a new generation of Irish players to cotton on to the fact that you get out of rugby what you put in. And what you put in probably shouldn’t be late night cigarettes, inconsistent training sessions and an unrestricted diet.

Jonathan Sexton and Paul O'Connell Jonathan Sexton bends his captain's ear. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

What he hadn’t bargained for was the culture of open, honest, relentless out and out slagging he carried over the generations would one day come back and and bite him.

O’Connell remains the Ireland squad’s alpha, but he would hardly be the first team cornerstone that proved an easy target for lads to chip away at.

“The constant abuse,” begins the 35-year-old when asked about his journey from young gun to old head in the international setup.

“I used to do it to John Hayes. I never thought I’d be that guy getting slagged for my taste in music and clothes.

John Hayes and Paul O'Connell 2011, the good old days when O'Connell could look to somebody older than himself. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“If I could take those times back when I used to slag John Hayes, I would. Because I’m constantly on the back foot from all the lads.

“It’s good fun. I get on great with the lads. I enjoy training and the matches more than  ever. There’s still stress and pressure that goes with them, but I think I handle it better and probably enjoy it more than ever.”

Even if his music and his style icons are completely out of touch with the hipsters hanging around Carton House, on the field O’Connell still leads the way.

The second row was Ireland’s stand-out player in this year’s Six Nations, arguably playing some of the best rugby of his career to deservedly take player of the year awards and a second Championship medal in two years.

So how about now? After his 15th pre-season in professional rugby, ahead of his third Rugby World Cup and a 36th birthday?

“I feel in great shape. I played two weeks ago against Scotland, but it was 25 minutes, so it was a little bit different. But you never really know until you go through a full 80 minutes.

Paul O'Connell leads the team in the warm up Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“When you have those 10-12 second scrums, 10-12 second mauls where you have to come out of them and get across the other side of the pitch. That’s the real test, being able to do that for a long period of time.

“I feel good and hoping I can get up to speed really quickly.”

For the week that’s in it, it was difficult to avoid a theme of finality around the Limerick man. However, Ireland’s captain will hope to have seven more games to worry about beyond these mere warm-ups, so he wasn’t fully prepared to be asked how he’d like to be remembered when he eventually hangs up the green jersey.

“Crikey, what a question!

“I don’t know: a hard worker, a team man? I hope the people would say that. I don’t know really.

“It’s been a very enjoyable experience playing in Dublin, in the Aviva and Lansdowne Road. It’s every kid’s dream.Now when I play rugby with (son) Paddy, I have to be France or England because he’s always Ireland.

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

“It’s always been a dream of everyone’s to play for their country. So to play in the Aviva and Lansdowne Road as many times as I have has been brilliant, but I wouldn’t get bogged down in my epitaph.”

There’s plenty of life in the old alpha dog yet. Plenty of abuse still to take.

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