Tuesday 28 March 2017

Fully charged O'Connell refuses to dwell on demons of '07

David Kelly

David Kelly

As the Irish team bus snaked its way through the pretty streets of Bordeaux yesterday afternoon, only the most eagle-eyed will have spotted the signposts for 'Du Lac', the HQ for Ireland's doomed World Cup bid back in 2007.

Mercifully, the bus continued on its route right into the heart of this timelessly pristine city, so tastefully regenerated with the help of UNESCO over the past couple of decades.

Tonight, the restoration of Ireland's World Cup reputation will itself, hopefully, continue apace. For Declan Kidney's men are anxious to avoid any wrong turns.

Paul O'Connell was in the middle of the 2007 set-up that had the players chomping on Nutella sandwiches and distracted to boredom in their dreary hotel.

But returning to Bordeaux will invite few demons into one of the most focused minds in Irish professional sport.

"Not really for me, it doesn't bother me," he responds, when asked whether the return to the scene of such deep disappointment sends a shiver up his spine as the mercury tipped 27 degrees.

"I might look back on it in time, but really, for most guys, you just move on to the next thing, you don't dwell too much on bad times.

"There are no real demons for me going back to Bordeaux."

Instead, all O'Connell can survey, as he scans across the cloudless sky, is opportunity for a team yet to deliver on the world stage.

"The next World Cup is always the biggest World Cup, you know what I mean?" he reckons. "As you say, we're in a great place in terms of experience, but we're also in a great place in terms of the youth that is coming through.

"The young guys are very confident, they've already won a lot of things, they've won Grand Slams and Heineken Cups and that.

"We've an excellent coaching staff and we've probably learned a lot of lessons from the past as well.

"So, in terms of being in good shape going into it, I think it's obviously very important to us because for some of us it's our last run around. And we won't be in as good a shape for a long time."

O'Connell is in decent nick himself; a long period out of the game has seen him trim his fighting weight to 110kg. It's only three kilos less than he was before his lengthy lay-off, but at this level, every grain of salt counts.

"I spent last year's pre-season in hospital, so to get that five or six weeks of weights and fitness under the belt has been great for me.

"I've been looking forward to getting back playing. I would rather not have had the break. I really would have liked to have kept playing, but the bit of weights and skill work and defensive work we've done in camp has been good as well.

"I'd love a good few games, but you've got to balance it as well. I'd be the type of player that needs to play three or four games before I really feel like I'm getting there.

"Luckily the way we've trained, in kind of 80-minute fitness sessions, they've been very intense without the contact.

"In terms of the running, it's been harder than games, but, then again, the contact does make a big difference." Contact won't be an issue tonight.

"It's all about physicality," he says. Time to erase some of those bad memories.

Irish Independent

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