O’Connell’s Swansong

Paul O’Connell is bound for the sunny climes of Toulon. It’s a richly deserved payday for the all-time great second row, but don’t for one second imagine that he’s heading down there just to get the sun on his back and gently wind down his career.

The first indicator that this is the case is that the deal is for two years, so it’s not just a post-World cup lap of honour. The second signifier is that this is Toulon, where full and total buy-in to the local rugby hotbed’s way of doing business is required. None of Bakkies Botha, Jonny Wilkinson or Simon Shaw were coasting when they headed to Toulon in the latter part of their careers, and Paul O’Connell won’t be either. The third, and most obvious clue is that we’re talking about Paul O’Connell, a man who knows only one way of playing: at full throttle.

The length of the deal may raise a few eyebrows. Two more years will take O’Connell up over the age of 38, but on close inspection it’s not unreasonable to expect O’Connell will still be going strong at that stage. Last we checked O’Connell was still playing at an exceptionally high level. His standard has scarcely tailed off in any way. Sure, there was the odd quiet game, like the Saracens nightmare this year, where he didn’t bring his usual ferocity to bear on the match, but that looks like a rare one-off rather than a bellweather of any precipitous decline.

Plus, O’Connell hasn’t quite as many miles on the clock as you might think. He had his share of injuries that kept him out of the game for long periods and, if anything, he is as fit as ever: he’s right in the middle of as long an injury-free run as can be remembered. He’s going to be an indispensable member of Ireland’s world cup bid, and if he’s good enough for that, he’s good enough to keep going through the rest of the season with Toulon.

There has been some loose talk of release for Ireland training camps, but it appears wrong-headed. Almost certainly, for all the points made above, O’Connell won’t have the reserves of energy to devote himself to both Toulon and Ireland, and will retire from international footie after the World Cup. It makes sense that he hand over the reigns of captaincy to Jamie Heaslip and his role as lock enforcer to Iain Henderson for the next four-year-cycle.

No Munsterman will begrudge O’Connell two years in Toulon, even if they end up coming face-to-face with him in the European Cup, as fate will surely decree they will at some stage. There is crazy talk of the province looking for a contractual clause that he can’t face them, but that’s ridiculous on so many levels – not least the fact that it would be the preference of the likes of Dave Foley and Billy Holland to face the big man. So here’s hoping he turns out at Thomond Park for one last time.  If only there existed an all-encompassing word to describe the almost mythical nature of his contribution to Munster and Irish rugby, we would apply it to this man.

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10 Comments

  1. T

     /  May 29, 2015

    Ligind!!

  2. Goshpels

     /  May 29, 2015

    A boy scoopsey

  3. munstermicko

     /  May 29, 2015

    PASHUN

  4. Riocard Ó Tiarnaigh

     /  May 29, 2015

    As a Leinster fan I have nothing but total admiration for PO’C and all he has done for Munster and Ireland. That said I can only wish him success in the Top14 – an attitude I previously took with J10. Anything that strengthens the French and English leagues at the expense of our provinces and the Pro 12 I oppose.

  5. col

     /  May 29, 2015

    He obviously fully deserves everything that comes with this and I agree with everything above. But once you get past that it is sad and a bit worrying maybe that Toulon can turn EVEN O’Connell’s head.

    • curates_egg

       /  May 30, 2015

      A wad of cash and 2 years in Provence all expenses paid? You’d want to have some thick old red neck not to turn and have a little peak

  6. andrew097

     /  May 29, 2015

    Delighted no one has had a go at him for taking the money. Unlike the usual reds who went for Sexton bald headed when he went to Paris. It just shows in hindsight how mean spirited they were.

  7. I dunno like, has he always really given 100% out there. 🙂 What a loss – he is improving! His carrying is better than it has been for a very long time (if not ever) and he now seems to play with a manic serenity (if that’s not completely oxymoronic), whereas in years gone by he was off the charts – eyes bulging, fear of god inducing, appealing to the ref whilst being punched whoop ass opening, concussed but still try scoring, turning upside down wedgie giving, allistair Campbell trouser down pulling, no ego-just minding the jerseying, psyched to the teeth. Forgive me for some of that, but what a man. As hard and fair and honest and generous and good a player as I’ve ever seen, in any sport. Adh mor to him.

  8. Gaspar Gomez

     /  June 3, 2015

    Not sure I’m totally in favour of JH assuming the captaincy – a fine player but NOT a leader of men. Alternatives please?

  9. TJ O'Rourke

     /  June 8, 2015

    http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/gaa-player-17-takes-his-life-after-being-tricked-into-posting-images-on-social-media-31286895.html

    ‘We all deserve to be able to use the internet to learn, explore and connect with each other. But all of us need to be aware of the risks involved’

    ‘His life was taken by these faceless people’

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