Tuesday 25 October 2016

O'Connell to end a winner

Red army must honour their leader with victory

There seems to be a synchronised singing from the same hymn sheet by those who know him best as a rugby man.

Brian O'Driscoll has tweeted it. Ronan O'Gara has said it. Heck, all of Munster will sing it tonight.

Paul O'Connell has earned the right to leave the province of his birth and his heart the way he wants.

He announced the end of his 14-year stretch with Munster last week.

He must have built a trophy cabinet to house those medals of his, you know the ones, for the 2006 and 2008 Heineken Cups, the 2003 Celtic League, the 2009 and 2011 Magner's League, the 2009 Grand Slam, the 2014 and 2015 Six Nations championships and the 2013 British & Irish Lions test series win in Australia to compensate for the 2005 and 2009 defeats to New Zealand and South Africa, the latter as captain.

All that was left to tidy up was whether it was the end of his career or the start of the end in the South of France.

It would appear Toulon's financial muscle and the curiosity of O'Connell to be immersed in a club where 'the galacticos' are as numerous as the stars above have convinced him there are two more years left in his body.

Before that, there will be the World Cup in autumn. Before that, there will be the PRO12 final tonight.


They will roll out the red carpet at The Kingspan. They will come from far and and wide and even closer to home in Belfast to see a spectacle.

This is a day for those who are there to be able to say, sometime in the future, 'I was there when he played his last for Munster.'

For all of that, O'Connell knows better than anyone this is a team game. No one man can do it all.

He refused to be taken as a pawn in his last match at Thomond Park, announcing his departure after The Ospreys had been taken out, not before it, in what would have given Munster a badly needed 'unique selling point' in front of what turned out to be a smaller-than-expected crowd. The diehards were there. Maybe, that is the way he wanted it.

The Limerick giant has never struck this hack as one for 'fairweather friends'.

He has refused to take the armband for the final, Denis Hurley assuming the captaincy from the injured Peter O'Mahony when everyone knows the leadership will flow from one man's mouth.

This must be mainly down to his acceptance that the show must go on and that someone else must be the conductor-in-chief.

Leinster and Ireland hero O'Driscoll concluded his career in the tenth minute of last year's Grand Final.

It came as an anti-climax, the warrior back unable to celebrate Leinster's victory on the battlefield.

Munster and Ireland hero O'Connell will rage against the dying of the final minutes to make it all the way to the end where the warrior forward will treat glory or defeat with equal grace.

This has been his hallmark. Even winners lose sometimes.

It will be up to those with him to make sure this won't be one of those.


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