It was fantastic to secure one of the 130 tickets available for a Q&A with Paul O’Connell organised by the MRSC. Several times Paul referred to “values” and his own values shone through as he chatted openly about his pre-season, the decision to move to Toulon, and his preparations for the world cup before answering questions posed by some of those lucky enough to be in attendance. His honesty, humour, humility, team spirit, drive and commitment were all apparent along with his patience and respect for his supporters as he posed for photographs and signed autographs until all present had availed of the opportunity to approach the big man.
I am a fan of Gift Grub with it’s OTT ferocious Paulie character but this was the real deal, and like an unplugged acoustic set on MTV, it was stripped back of all razzmatazz, just Paul and the MC sitting at a high table with microphones, chatting openly with plenty of slagging on both sides, before a captivated audience in an intimate venue.
Listening to him speak about pre-season gave an insight into the life of a professional rugby player and how he needs to focus on his diet, weight and fitness levels. He spoke of how difficult it is to reach the high levels he sets for himself, giving an idea of the wear and tear on his body after all the injuries and how that affects how he needs to manage his training today. He also entertained us by detailing some of the unwritten protocol of sharing a room during the Ireland camp. As Captain he is entitled to his own room but he enjoys sharing with Keith Earls.
At heart he is a Limerick and Munster man and this was reinforced by the way he continually referred to Munster rugby as we / our and his love for the team and it’s values was apparent to all. The importance for players to buy into those values be they originally from other provinces or indeed other countries is a critical success factor when recruiting players and as he said, Dougie is not sticking around for our great weather 🙂 He also paid tribute to the AIL which was a great “academy” for Munster when the game went professional.
When asked about his favourite second row partner, while he did not want to single one out, unsurprisingly he spoke in glowing terms about his long-time brother-in-arms for Munster and Ireland – Donncha O’Callaghan. In addition to all he has learnt from Dunners including his approach to fitness and preparation, he was full of praise for Donncha’s positive attitude around the camp regardless of whether he is selected for the coming game or not.
While there have been many great wins away from home, one which stands out was the 37-14 victory over Perpignan in December 2009 – the time that Jean de Villiers started on the bench and came on to score a great try, while another new South African player Wian du Preez was totally bemused when he could not understand most of the half time address by a former player – it seemed to work anyway!
Asked about the home win that stands out he selected the Sale game in January 2006, they were top of the Premiership and like many an English team before them had come to Thomond Park full of confidence. Paul mentioned Barry Murphy’s try when he turned Jason Robinson inside out and the atmosphere that night in Limerick, before he painted a funny picture of going out after the game in a suit which did not fit but he wore it anyway, with his white runners, trousers barely below his knees, tight jacket, no shirt, and a gold chain someone gave him – Tom Jones eat your heart out! Apparently he has a photo as a souvenir of that night out, it sounded hilarious!
On the other side of the coin, the recent defeat to Glasgow in the Pro12 final was hard to take after the good performance in the semi-final and you could tell he still cannot figure out what went wrong. While understandably he has some regrets over his career he credited Declan Kidney for his advice that experience is what you gain when you lose (not an exact quote but that was the gist of it…)
I had not been aware that Corpse has been his nickname since the end of RWC 2011 and hope that his final appearance in a RWC this Autumn will be the most successful yet for Ireland.
Kudos to the MRSC for arranging the event and to Paul for wanting to take the time out from the Ireland camp at Foto Island to address a subset of the support base he values. Yes we had read about his Toulon decision in the media but hearing it from him directly had more weight and judging by the standing ovation he received we all appreciated his openness and honesty, and the opportunity to pay our tribute to him. While it is unclear what he will do after his playing career ends we all wish him well in the warmer climes of the south of France, armed with his factor 50 and perhaps setting a new trend there of training in a baseball cap.
Merci beaucoup. Au revoir Paul.
More photos from the event can be seen on the MRSC Facebook page here.
I did not take notes or record the event so if you were there and have anything to share feel free to leave a comment – bearing in mind the request not to put anything controversial into the public domain.
PS: if on Facebook you can now “Like” https://www.facebook.com/wtview to follow me.
Updated February 9th as Paul retires from all rugby as a result of the injury sustained during the RWC2015 I send my best wishes to him and his family for the future. #ThanksPaulie. His interview with Michael Corcoran about his retirement is here
One of my favourite GiftGrubs to celebrate the legend we had the pleasure of supporting throughout his career based on the wonderful quarter-final win against Harlequins: