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Monday 18 December 2017

O'Kelly - O'Connell is one of the greatest of all

Paul O'Connell believes Ireland 'have the potential to win a World Cup'
Paul O'Connell believes Ireland 'have the potential to win a World Cup'
Malcolm O'Kelly

Paul O'Connell still has it. But he didn't always have it.

The knowledge that is.

Even the great man had to learn his trade at the hands of the likes of former Leinster and Ireland lock Malcolm O'Kelly. There was a time when Ireland's captain was as green as the jersey he holds dear.

"I first recall an AIL game, 2001. He was up and coming, I was having a bit of fun with him," smiled the genial O'Kelly.

Fun? What do you mean fun? "When you're doing line-outs it was easy for me to see where I could manipulate him to win line-out ball.

"It was just a memory I took from the game.

"For me, I would have had a ton of experience in manipulating line-outs, whereas he would have been super-athletic in competing, but I would let him go somewhere and I'd go somewhere else.

"It was just a matter of line-outs, that was what I meant."

DEFIANT

The great learn quickly and the great leaders do it differently. O'Connell has always been a talker, a rouser, a defiant voice.

"By the second cap, he was certainly commanding the room vocally," said O'Kelly.

"I remember France away, we were getting lots of faxes from the people. A really good warm atmosphere.

"It's Paul's first Six Nations, most guys usually keep their head down. But he was all over it. He was like a mini-Mick Galwey. He was certainly struck from the same stone."

The right to speak out and be heard by all is usually one earned over time. But the genuine fearlessness and the passion resonated with those that had seen it all before.

"We didn't resent it, not a second row, not a Paul O'Connell."

Even Brian O'Driscoll had to give way to father time and the ache of his body.

O'Connell is close to the end.

"If you lose any player - and it doesn't have to be a Paul O'Connell or a Brian O'Driscoll - then you lose the character.

"Regardless of what they do on the pitch, losing the character is always really sad and every season that's what happens.

"It'll be the same when Paul O'Connell goes. But by then, Munster will have someone else to come in, it's just the nature of rugby."

The game moves on, no matter who you are.

"In terms of his endurance over the years, what he's brought to the Irish line-out, he's been incredible," said O'Kelly.

"I'm fortunate to have played with him and fortunate to have played against him.

"Paul goes up there with the likes of John Eales, Victor Matfield, Malcolm O'Kelly!"

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