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Dublin: 12 °C Friday 20 September, 2019
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Paul O'Connell calls on AP McCoy, ROG and BOD as he ponders retirement

The 35-year-old Ireland captain has ruled out a move to Toulon next season.

Paul O'Connell is an ambassador for the adidas Climachill range.
Paul O'Connell is an ambassador for the adidas Climachill range.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

AS PAUL O’CONNELL moves closer to making a decision on when to retire from rugby, he has the good fortune of getting advice from the former world-class sportspeople in his social circle.

His long-time Ireland and Lions teammate Brian O’Driscoll bowed out of the professional sport at the end of last season, while 2o-times champion jockey AP McCoy bid farewell to horse racing only last week.

O’Connell has also leaned on ex-Munster teammates Ronan O’Gara and Mike Prendergast, and says he is now 90% of the way towards making a final decision about whether or not to play on beyond this year’s Rugby World Cup.

The legendary Ireland second row admits that he never believed his body would hold up to the strains of the international game as well as it has in the build-up to the global tournament in September and October.

Indeed, the experiences of others have ensured that O’Connell is not rushing into a decision that he might come to regret.

McCoy – who O’Connell was originally introduced to by Limerick businessman and racehorse owner J.P. McManus – has warned him of such feelings.

“I met AP a few weeks ago and he said he was kind of punishing himself. He made a decision and he’s making himself stay with it,” explains O’Connell. ”I thought it was a strange thing to say and I don’t want to do that to myself until I’m 100% sure what I’m doing.”

“It seems to be a huge wrench for him. I envy the position Brian was in: he was 100% in no doubt it was the right thing to do. I think he kind of kicked on and went for another year. I spoke to him recently and he doesn’t regret that in the slightest.

Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll celebrate after the game O'Connell has spoken to O'Driscoll about playing on for one more year. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“That’s the advice he gave me: if you are in doubt, he had no regret about going another year. Look, it’s not a bad position to be in, to be playing well and for people to be eager for you to play on.”

O’Connell is contracted to the IRFU until June 2016, although that does not mean he cannot retire following the World Cup.

“I presume they wouldn’t sue me and make me go out onto the pitch!” jokes the 35-year-old.

Oddly enough, O’Connell has been linked with a move to Toulon next season in the French media in recent times, after rumours that he might be joining James Coughlan at Pau surfaced in November.

Having laughed off the Pau link at that stage, O’Connell has done much the same with the Toulon stories.

There is little to tell about it, I mean from what I read about it, it started about six or seven months ago with Pau,” says O’Connell.

“I suppose the fact I haven’t been really clear about when I finish and about what I’m going to do when I’m finished probably adds to it.

“I thought I would be pretty sure about what I was going to do, when I would finish, but I’m probably not. I’m looking to finish out the end of the season with Munster and leave the decision [on possible retirement] to the month of June.

“I certainly haven’t spoken to Toulon or been over there. There are no options to do anything, I’m on contract with Ireland until 2016.

So does that completely rule out a move to Toulon?

“Yeah, I suppose it does rule it out really.”

Paul O'Connell and Sean O'Brien wrap up Dougie Fife O'Connell was in superb form as Ireland won the Six Nations this year. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

O’Connell says the only person in Toulon he speaks to “from time to time” is the club’s strength and conditioning coach, Paul Stridgeon, whom he worked with and befriended on the 2013 Lions tour of Australia.

“I’d be in contact with ROG every week and with Mike Prendergast every week. That would really be my only other contacts down there [in France].”

O’Gara is working as an assistant coach with Racing Métro in the suburbs of Paris, while Prendergast fills the same role with Grenoble close to the Alps. Both men have spoken highly of working in France, but also made O’Connell aware of the difficulties.

“I think they all really enjoy it,” says O’Connell. “I think they’re probably all homesick as well. I’ve been asked about leaving and why I’d never left but it’s hard to leave your home province. We do have great set-ups here.

It’s always been incredibly enjoyable, always brilliantly run, the body gets really well looked after. I think Prendy and ROG really enjoy it, but they are homesick and I’d say they would love to see themselves coming back in time.”

O’Connell’s excellent form and his ongoing fitness have made his retirement decision all the more difficult. Indeed, his Six Nations Player of the Tournament award was richly deserved and the lock appears to be improving with age.

“I really thought two years ago that this was going to be it, there was going to be no doubt in this,” admits O’Connell, “that I was going to be managing my body, I was going to have to be really diligent to manage my body to get myself to the World Cup in good shape.

“I honestly thought I was going to be stumbling towards the World Cup, trying to hold it together. I have looked after it, but I’m probably in a better place than I thought I’d be. So that probably muddies the water more than anything.”

Paul O'Connell The Munster lock missed last weekend's win over Treviso with a shoulder injury. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

This theme is already a well-worn one and it is to be hoped that O’Connell can now be left in peace to make the big decision this summer.

“It’s not tormenting me,” says O’Connell of his thought process. “I know my own family, my friends are eager to know what I am going to do.

“I normally know exactly what I am going to do and when I am going to do it. I really wish I had a bit more clarity for you. I am about 85% to 90% of the way there. I just think once you announce a decision you are stuck with it. I don’t want to put myself in that position.

“The big thing for me is to finish the season as well as I can with Munster and then I’ll have to have some kind of an answer for you in pre-season.”

Ireland awaits.

********************

Irish rugby international Paul O’Connell launches the new adidas Climachill product range. When it comes to performance, every degree matters, the new Climachill product range makes sure athletes can perform at their best regardless of heat, through new age design and material selection for maximum cooling.

Climachill is the next generation of active-cooling sportswear and is available now from Life Style Sports and www.adidas.ie.

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Murray Kinsella

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