56 reasons why Paul O'Connell is Ireland's greatest living human being
Paul O'Connell's Test career is at an end.
In keeping with the 107 that went before, the great man's final match in green was characterised by tremendous courage and selflessness.
His pre-match team-talk brought tears to the eyes of his charges, while even after suffering what looked like a very painful and "significant hamstring injury" he managed to congratulate his team-mates on their heroic 24-9 win over France.
Just two more reasons why the Limerick giant is our greatest export and reason enough to once more celebrate the great man.
NOTE: We have added eight new reasons since this article was originally published.
1. He turns to Padre Pio when necessary
O'Connell had this picture in his boot during the Heineken Cup final in 2006 cup at the Millennium Stadium. Two years later, he played like a man possessed as Munster beat Toulouse at the same stadium. Ronan O'Gara remarks that his mate truly lived up to the name he had been given in 2007: Psycho.
2. He also knows all the words to The Power of Love
Peter Clohessy mail-ordered his young teammate a 6-CD box-set called The Power of Love at 3am the night before Ireland played Italy, in 2003. Ask O'Connell to belt out any 1980s power ballad - he will not disappoint.
3. He totally owns 'the Irishman abroad in a swimming pool' look
4. And he put BT Sport in their place when it comes to hurling
5. He masterminded Ireland's famous win over the Wallabies at RWC 2011 while disguised as a cat
Due to a forfeit, O'Connell was forced to draw a cat's nose and whiskers on his face, and leave it there for 24 hours. The lock held a forwards meeting in Auckland, a couple of days before Ireland beat Australia at Eden Park, and set out an aggressive plan while disguised as a feline. 'Only O'Connell could have pulled it off,' remarked a team-mate.
6. He knocked himself out and scored a try on his Irish debut in 2002
O'Connell had only made his Munster debut six months previous, but Eddie O'Sullivan threw him in from the start against Wales and was instantly rewarded. Paulie being Paulie he put himself right in the thick of it from the off, as Ireland teammate Geordan Murphy later recalled: 'Paul won his first cap that day too, knocking himself clean out scoring a try. Of course, Paulie wanted to play away without his marbles.'
7. He's useless at surfing but never stops trying
Ireland went for surfing lessons during the 2003 World Cup, in Australia, and O'Connell lasted 30 seconds on his board before a tiddling wave took him down. He emerged unscathed. The board, unfortunately, had snapped in two. Not a man to give up, he gave surfing another whirl in 2013, on the Lions Tour. Here is the result of his efforts:
8. This picture from his stag
An ardent Everton supporter, O'Connell accepted the dare of wearing a full Liverpool kit for his Stag party. He survived that session and married his partner, Emily, in France.
9. His zealous dedication to training
Brian O'Driscoll and Ronan O'Gara have both noted the manic intensity with which he trains. Former Ireland second row Gary Longwell told us: 'If you drink out of Paul O'Connell's water bottle, he is liable to deck you. He's that afraid of picking up colds or anything that may slow him down.'
10. He still turns out for Young Munster whenever possible
11. Because of this marvellous advert for milk
12. He lasted the pace in 35-degree heat in Samoa. It is not his natural habitat
In his autobiography O'Callaghan describes the match-day conditions in 2004 as 'a pizza oven' and says 'the red-haired lads struggled'. Anthony Horgan suffered sun stroke and Jonny Bell was placed on a drip, post-match. But, O'Callaghan adds: 'The only one of our ginger lads that kept going was Paulie, mostly because he's a lunatic.'
13. Because of whatever is going on here
14. In his early days, he had no problem marking an opponent's dance-card
Rob Sidoli of Wales, in 2005, and Jamie Cudmore (below), in 2008.
15. He takes no crap from team-mates, even in training
Despite their close friendship, O'Connell and O'Callaghan came to blows in 2004.
They were then literally made to kiss and make up on the bus back to the team hotel.
16. Because he yanked down Alastair Campbell's tracksuit bottoms on the Lions Tour
17. His 'manic aggression' speech as France came to Croker in 2007
18. Once the final whistle blows, he offers the world's firmest handshake
19. Because he is a far, far better actor than Brian O'Driscoll
20. Because he remains focused even when having a pie shoved in his face by John Hayes
21. He overcame his captaincy disappointment to drive Ireland to the Grand Slam in 2009...
Brian O'Driscoll felt his position as Ireland captain was in trouble before the Six Nations but Declan Kidney kept his faith rather than installing O'Connell. As O'Driscoll explains in The Test, 'It's been a while since we've talked properly and it's a measure of the man that he comes to my room to make sure there's no problem between us. Typical Paulie, he cuts to the chase. He says he's not looking for the captaincy, not unless I don't want to do it any more... I'm quite happy in my role, just so you know... A big man in more ways than one.'
22. ... before praising ROG for 'the manky drop goal'
23. For captaining the British & Irish Lions in South Africa
Ian McGeechan bestowed one of the greatest honours any rugby player can receive in 2009 as he asked Paulie to lead the tourists against South Africa. The hosts clinched one of the best Test Series in recent history but O'Connell, at least, had the consolation of winning the Third Test, in Johannesburg.
24. He's a fan of the Punt
Economist David McWilliams dropped over for an autograph, a few years back, when Ireland were in camp and out for dinner. O'Connell, a voracious reader of books, had been reading up on the Irish economy and its struggles in recession. McWilliams left with the autograph, for his son, but not until he had debated the merits of sticking with the Euro rather than going back to the Irish Punt.
25. He loves a good prank, usually at Donncha O'Callaghan's expense
26. Because he nails that rhino
27. Plus he can shift some serious tin
28. And he once shared a giant pair of boxers with Ireland coach Gert Smal
The second row got on so well with the World Cup-winning South African coach that his team-mates made them share a XXL pair of boxers to share on a team bowling night out.
29. He only went and learned Afrikaans to help Ireland beat the Springboks
Paulie gained a measure of revenge when he played a pivotal role in a 15-12 win over the then world champions at a fog-shrouded Croke Park in November 2009.
O'Callaghan later revealed, 'We're lucky we have a lunatic like O'Connell who is willing to learn Afrikaans to pick off a few calls. I called up to his room one time and he had YouTube on and some woman counting to 10 in Afrikaans. I was like "what's going on here?" He was getting his ear in and to be fair he did pick off an awful lot of their calls.'
30. His willingness to burn team-mates
O'Callaghan, and his fake tan habits, was the victim on this 2010 edition of The Late Late Show.
31. He's more demanding than Roy Keane
O'Connell was out injured in 2010 but decided to drop in on a video review session. One of the clips featured James Coughlan concede a penalty under Munster's posts, against Ospreys. O'Connell proclaimed, 'What the f**k did you think you were going to do? Rip the ball and run 95-yards up the pitch?' O'Callaghan, who was in the meeting, says, 'Somebody else could have said that but it wouldn't have had the same impact. Most fellas wouldn't have the balls to say it.'
32. And even when he gets injured it's some mad, freakish injury
O'Connell suffered a nasty knee injury in the 2012 Six Nations, against France. His return was delayed due to a post-operative infection. When he did get back on the field, he played just two Heineken Cup games before disc issues in his back flared up. As O'Connell explained at the time, 'I just had a bulging disc that came out and it’s difficult. What happens is when the bulge comes out it’s like a piece of toothpaste coming out of an onion and that normally hits the nerve and causes you pain.'
33. Because his all-time favourite book (Shantaram) is written by this man
34. He can de-seed a pomegranate like no other second row forward in the northern hemisphere
35. Because his performance against Harlequins in 2013 redefined the word heroic
Harlequins, seeded one in the Heineken Cup, at The Stoop and featuring the likes of Chris Robshaw, Joe Marler and Danny Care. Munster fans infiltrated the crowd and O'Connell, in particular, was immense. The win was classic Munster but they fell short in the semi-final against Clermont.
36. He owns the hardest high-five you'll ever get
Before the Clermont match, O'Gara recalled the heftiest POC high-five of all time.
37. Because of Gift Grub's 'Tacklemore featuring Paul O'Connell'
38. He put the Fear of God into Kurtley Beale in the Lions' first Test win over Australia
The Lions were leading 23-21 as the final whistle neared, only to concede a late penalty. Perhaps Beale caught glimpse of this stunning flag as he lined up a kick he ended up missing after an embarrassing slip:
— Kevin O'Neill (@coach4creatives) June 14, 2013
39. Not allowing a broken arm to halt the Lions winning momentum in Oz
The Limerick legend was in the form of is life during the series only to break his arm in the closing stages of the Lions' first Test victory. Wallabies prop Ben Alexander explained, 'Our physio said "Oh, he's just broke his arm there" before the last few scrums. But he got up and we thought "Oh, maybe not" and he packed those last few scrums with a busted arm.'
40. Whether it's a Grand Slam match or Ring a Ring O' Roses, he MUST win
O'Callaghan recalls a moment when several players were looking forward to a game of Monopoly. Once O'Connell signed up to play, his colleagues 'ran a mile' from the game.
41. Boxing with Katie Taylor... and letting her win
42. The respect in which the world's best rugby players hold him
VICTOR MATFIELD (South Africa): I think O'Connell is a fantastic player. He is probably the best player I've played against in my career.
DAN CARTER (New Zealand): The guy is world-class; such a competitor and an absolute beast.
SERGIO PARISSE (Italy): Whenever Ireland have O'Connell in their pack, they have a chance. He is a true leader and drives them in so many ways.
43. His crucial role in Johnny Sexton's second try against France in 2014
Following Andrew Trimble's 60-metre break and pass to Brian O'Driscoll, France looked to have snuffed out the threat and were poised to turnover possession. First man on the scene, at the breakdown, was O'Connell. He secured possession, drove for the line and, one phase later, Sexton was on hand to score a try that proved the match-winner.
44. A crunching tackle against Ben McCalman that showed there's life in the old POC yet
45. This lovely moment with his son, Paddy
46. Sure he even does Vines now...
47. Because he poses for selfies
48. And because he is still going strong after 96 Test caps
UPDATED - Reasons 49-53
The big man's amazing antics have continued since the Six Nations. Ahead of what will be his final Munster game, here are five more reasons Paul O'Connell is Ireland's greatest human being.
49. This picture with his son, Paddy, after Ireland retained their trophy
50. Celebrating in style
"First time ever won trophy while drinking pint Tennents" . @RBS6Nations2015 Paul o Connell memories @IRUPA
— Richard Moore (@Moorerichardpr) May 13, 2015
51. He's big in Japan too
52. Because he could well be the Irish James Bond
Looking fly with Katie Fitzhenry and Eimear Consindine at the 2015 IRUPA Awards.
53. His rousing rendition of 'Stand Up And Fight' after his Thomond Park farewell
54. He twice tried to stand up at the Millennium Stadium, despite suffering a "significant hamstring injury"
Picture credit: James Crombie / INPHO
55. For 14 years and 108 Tests of consistent excellence and unforgettable memories. Thanks Paulie
Picture credit: Billy Stickland / INPHO
Rampaging to the end.