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09th May 2023

Paul O’Connell’s favourite rugby memory is just Munster to a tee

Patrick McCarry

Paul O'Connell

“It was quite a serious role. Other players had done it before him.”

During a chat with Wales and Lions legend Sam Warburton, earlier this year, Paul O’Connell spoke this sense of wonder that imbued him through his early days with Munster.

A talented swimmer in his formative years, O’Connell really only gave rugby a proper crack when he was 16, at Ardscoil Rís. It did not take him long to turn heads and he was drafted into the Munster ranks in the early 2000s. While Donncha O’Callaghan got the initial senior squad jump on him, the pair would be reunited in 2001 and go on to have a long provincial and Test partnership.

During the International Rugby Experience grand opening, O’Connell had another opportunity to pore back over memories of playing in Munster red, and we could barely stop him once his needle hit the groove.

On the latest House of Rugby [LISTEN from 53:55 below] Jason Hennessy caught up with O’Connell and Johnny Sexton at that launch. While Sexton’s favourite moment in rugby was Ireland’s recent Grand Slam win, O’Connell had something that is just Munster Rugby to a tee.

Paul O'Connell

Paul O’Connell on his favourite moment in rugby

“Very hard to pick,” Paul O’Connell confessed, when asked for his favourite moment in rugby. “It’s very hard to pick. Very, very.”

After mulling on the question for a moment more, O’Connell eschewed Munster’s two Heineken Cups, the 2009 Grand Slam, captaining the Lions or all the times he captained his country on the Test stage.

“I mean, all my favourite moments were generally in the change room afterwards with the lads,” he began.

“I remember playing one away game, one year with Munster [in 2009]. Mick Galwey was retired a good while. He came down as a mentor.

“And the whole thing of the mental process, which we had in Munster at the time, was to help players understand what it meant to be a Munster player and, you know, to talk the players. It was quite a serious role. Other players had done it before him – Keith Wood, Killian Keane, John Kelly. They’d taken it very serious.

“And Gaillimh came down and drank wine for the four days he was with us! But he sat at the table with the players and everyone wanted to sit at his table. And it was just buckets of laughter for the whole weekend from his table.

“And we went on, played Perpignan in a big European Cup game, played out of our skins, beat them and got a bonus point.

“Just having him there, you know, he wasn’t trying to he wasn’t trying to be anything he wasn’t. It was down in France, as well, which I love playing and so that was a great experience. That is  one of my favourite rugby memories.”

Munster led that game 10-9, in Stade Aimé Giral, at half-time but had a dicey moment when Ronan O’Gara was sent to the sin-bin. They rallied well after that set-back and scored a short-handed try through Denis Hurley, kicking on to win 37-14.

O’Connell played 15 seasons of professional rugby and, after hanging up his boots in 2016, has established himself as a great forwards coach.

It was fascinating to watch him, back in March as Ireland celebrated their most recent Grand Slam, standing back, on his own, and watching the players as they brought the trophies around the Aviva Stadium pitch on a lap of honour. It was their moment and the spotlight was all for them, he felt.

As a player, he had his time. A smile was never far from his lips as he happily reminisced about those moments with the Munster lads – teammates old and new – and adventures they had.


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