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'A great example to any young player' - O'Connell says O'Donnell will bounce back

“He’s a special type of athlete.”

Tommy O'Donnell goes off injured Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

AN AGONISING PRE-World Cup injury is almost becoming tradition.

In 2003, Geordan Murphy broke his leg, while in 2011 it was Felix Jones and David Wallace who suffered the heartbreak.

While Ireland impressed in the win against Wales last week, the dislocated hip suffered by Munster’s Tommy O’Donnell put a major damper on proceedings, with the Munster man sticking his hand up for World Cup selection in the 70 minutes he’d been on the field.

With the 28-year-old a late bloomer in rugby terms, 2015 looked like being his best chance at making rugby’s biggest stage, before the freak injury led to him being stretchered off the field, clutching medic Eanna Falvey.

While O’Donnell may only have been on the international scene for two years, it’s almost eight years since he pulled on a Munster jersey for the first time, and his international teammate Paul O’Connell says the fighting spirit O’Donnell has shown in his career to date will only stand to him during this setback.

“The thing with Tommy is – and I know him a long time – it took him a long time to break through at Munster. He’s a great example to any young player to just kept his head down, he’s worked his socks off and when it comes to training and when it comes to his lifestyle – the other 20 hours away from the training field – Tommy would be the ultimate professional in that regard.

“That’s one of the reasons everyone feels for him because it’s recognition of how hard he’s worked. The shape he was in was phenomenal, he’s a special type of athlete, he played incredibly well against Wales but that’s the game and the sport. I spoke to him yesterday [Sunday] and he accepts that it’s part and parcel of games, sometimes you’re unlucky. He’s a tough rehab ahead of him but there’s no doubt he’ll be back.”

O’Connell was speaking in Dublin on Wednesday having been presented with the Rugby Writers of Ireland Player of the Year, the second time he’s won the award after picking it up in 2006.

Paul OÕConnell named Guinness Rugby Writers of Ireland Player of the Year Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The Toulon-bound second row watched as his Irish teammates put a second-string Wales to the sword on Saturday, with O’Connell set to feature this Saturday against Scotland at the Aviva Stadium.

The win last week sent Ireland to an all-time high of second in the rugby world rankings, but O’Connell says that with the World Cup groups already drawn, the rankings are the last things on their minds.

“Unless the pools are being drawn for the World Cup any time soon it’s irrelevant for us. It’s one for the fans more than the players other than that period when the seedings are done.

“All those things are a distraction, it’s about us working as hard as we can for the day you’re in at the moment and doing as well as you can and it avoids the distraction of the world rankings.”

However, the loftier the ranking, the greater the expectation. With just one defeat in their last 12 test matches, the O’Connell is confident that the increased pressure won’t get too much for he and his teammates.

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Paul O'Connell Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“There’s lots of ways to look at it, we’ve been quite good at playing under pressure in recent years mainly because we don’t get distracted by the enormity of some of the games.

“We have a big focus on what we’ve got to do each week and the pressure is almost more on knowing your role and performing your role than there is on the bigger distraction of the game or the consequences of the result.

“That’s one of the ways we’ve been quite good at performing under pressure in recent years. With the distraction of a World Cup, maybe because I’m a little bit older, it’s very  much in the back of my mind and the back of our mind, we’re just preparing for these games week to week,” he said.

Keith Earls wins Man of the Match Award Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

With several players putting their hands up for selection during the defeat of Wales, O’Connell says there’s been an extra bit of intensity to the preparations, as those who weren’t involved in Cardiff looking to math the efforts of their teammates.

That competitive spirit, O’Connell says, can only be a benefit.

“We talk about pressure it’s probably in terms of places and selection that group has laid down a marker to the rest of the squad. This week, this preparation week before the Scottish game is going to be massive for whatever team takes to the field to face Scotland.

“It’s results like that at this time of year are a good thing, they raise the bar, they put the onus now on the team that plays on Saturday to prepare 100 per cent to the best of their ability to deliver in terms of accuracy, in terms of detail that the group last Saturday did.”

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