Sunday 23 October 2016

Paul O'Connell: I honestly don't know what I'll do after the World Cup

Irish captain hasn't made up his mind yet on what he'll do after World Cup

Paul O'Connell
Paul O'Connell

"I think Johnny has been a great advertisement for the IRFU for hanging on to players."

These were the thoughtful words emanating from Ireland captain Paul O'Connell on the night he was crowned Irish Rugby Union players' Association Players' Player of the Year on Wednesday.

"It is very hard to be at your best for Ireland when you're playing in France," he offered up.

"During the Six Nations, when we had those high intensity weeks, and there was the down week where we were able to mentally switch off, Johnny was getting on a plane, going back to France to prepare for a game.

"It is a difficult thing to do when you're playing international rugby."

What O'Connell doesn't realise, or what he is too humble to put out, is that he is the greatest walking, talking advertisement for the IRFU.

The international centurion has made the transition from young buck to old warhorse, primarily through his own unrivalled application with 'a little help from his friends' at head office thrown in.

It is no coincidence the Limerick man's second IRUPA award came nine years after his first.

There has been almost a decade in between, the dark times brought on by injurycast away as he led Ireland to back-to-back Six Nations championships.

He took a moment to look back and draw comparisons between the man he once was and the man he is now.

"They are probably two completely different players," he said.

"The way I have to train and prepare now is completely different to what it was back then. I remember that year (2006)."

It was partly defined by taking licence with the man who is now Ireland's forwards coach. "I had a good, long pre-season.

"I broke my hand in my first game back punching Simon Easterby and ended up having another ten weeks out of the game," he said, the smile breaking out.

"I was able to train really, really hard. I ended up with something ridiculous like a 22-week pre-season. When I got back I just felt incredibly fit."

O'Connell has never been one to dwell on his superior skills as an athlete with an eye for the ball and a natural leader of men.

He merely sees himself as a workaholic foil for those with greater finesse.

"Second row is a work-rate position and I am a work rate player," he said.

"It was probably that series of events which helped me go on and have a really good season. The stuff I did back then I still remember it.

"I can't do that now my body would absolutely fall apart now. They are two very different players and two very different approaches to training."

It is only now O'Connell can fully understand the surveillance and examination of every word that came from the mouth of Brian O'Driscoll last season.

"I think Brian came out and said what he was going to do. He probably had to endure as much media talk about it.

"It's hard to know what to do."

The resurgence of the living legend's career has come from the careful maintenance of his body.

"I honestly thought I would be retired two, three or even four years ago," he said.

While the uncertainty over O'Connell's position, in terms of his retirement date, go on, the questions will continue to rain down.

"I need to decide whether I am going to play on or not after the World Cup.

"It does go on and I have probably contributed to it by not coming out and saying what I am going to do.

"The reason I haven't done that is because I honestly don't know."

There is a simple solution to the situation as the media feed off of every morsel connecting O'Connell to extending his career in France.

The only time I think about it is when I read about it," he added.

"This summer is probably going to be decision time when I really need to decide what I am going to do, put it out there and put the speculation to an end.

"That's where I am at."

There is an understandable school of thought that it would be crazy to end a brilliant career at the end of a season in which he was voted as Ireland's best player by Ireland's best players.

He carries with him the knowledge and experience of a career decorated with achievement and defined by a relentless approach to unwavering professionalism.

The man will be a long time retired.

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