Monday 5 December 2016

Billy Keane: Munster, and rest of rugby world, to honour the great man on his last day in red jersey

Published 30/05/2015 | 02:30

Munster's Paul O'Connell celebrates with the 2008 Heineken Cup Final win against Toulouse at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff,
Munster's Paul O'Connell celebrates with the 2008 Heineken Cup Final win against Toulouse at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff,
Paul O’Connell is likely to play his final game for Munster today

Paul O'Connell doesn't like fuss. Our hero gets on with the job, and so he didn't flag his last match in Thomond.

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This is the Munster way. Paul would have seen the leaving of many of his friends over the years. He would not see himself more worthy of a big send-off than any other player.

So today is Paul's last match in a Munster jersey. Even just writing those words makes me gulp.

The final of the Guinness Pro12 takes place in Belfast this evening. Glasgow have strong Ulster ties but Ulster will unite behind Paul for the last hurrah against the Warriors. And maybe the Cavan fans might even sing their new victory song in his honour.

The first line goes, "Come home Paddy Reilly to marry James Duff" and sure you know the rest yourself.

Glasgow have been the team of the tournament. They play exciting rugby with loads of offloads but for years now Munster have specialised in tickling jugglers under the oxters.

24 May 2008; Munster's Paul O'Connell celebrates with the Heineken Cup. Heineken Cup Final, Munster v Toulouse, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE
24 May 2008; Munster's Paul O'Connell celebrates with the Heineken Cup. Heineken Cup Final, Munster v Toulouse, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE
30 April 2005; Paul O'Connell, Munster. Celtic Cup 2004-2005, Quarter-Final, Munster v Edinburgh Rugby, Thomond Park, Limerick. Picture credit; Kieran Clancy / SPORTSFILE
19 April 2004; Paul O'Connell during a munster rugby press conference ahead of the Heineken Cup semi-final against Leinster. Thomond Park, Limerick. Picture credit; Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE
25 April 2004; Paul O'Connell, Munster. Heineken European Cup 2003-2004, Semi-Final, Munster v London Wasps, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit; Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE *EDI*
14 December 2002; Paul O'Connell, Munster, is tackled by Paul Roux, Viadana. Viadana v Munster, Heineken Cup, Round Four, Viadana, Italy. Rugby. Picture credit; Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE *EDI*
6 December 2002; Paul O'Connell, Munster, takes the ball in the lineout from Richard Denhardt, Viadana. Munster v Viadana, Heineken Cup, Round Three, Musgrave Park, Cork. Rugby. Picture credit; Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE *EDI*
15 December 2001; Paul O'Connell, Munster. Rugby. Picture credit; Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
17 January 2015; Paul O'Connell, Munster, is tackled by Billy Vunipola, Saracens. European Rugby Champions Cup 2014/15, Pool 1, Round 5, Saracens v Munster. Allianz Park, London, England. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
17 January 2015; Munster players Peter O'Mahony, left, and Paul O'Connell leave the pitch after the game. European Rugby Champions Cup 2014/15, Pool 1, Round 5, Saracens v Munster. Allianz Park, London, England. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
16 May 2014; Paul O'Connell, Munster. Celtic League 2013/14 Play-off, Glasgow Warriors v Munster, Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow, Scotland. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
27 April 2013; Munster's Paul O'Connell acknowledges supporters after defeat to ASM Clermont Auvergne. Heineken Cup Semi-Final 2012/13, ASM Clermont Auvergne v Munster, Stade de la Mosson, Montpellier, France. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
3 May 2013; Paul OConnell, Munster. Celtic League 2012/13, Round 22, Zebre v Munster, Stadio XXV Aprile, Parma, Italy. Picture credit: Roberto Bregani / SPORTSFILE
20 May 2006; Paul O'Connell, Munster, is tackled by Serge Betsen, Biarritz. Heineken Cup Final, Munster v Biarritz Olympique, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales. Picture credit; Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
20 May 2006; Munster lock Paul O'Connell with the Heineken Cup after the game. Heineken Cup Final, Munster v Biarritz Olympique, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales. Picture credit; Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
4 November 2011; Paul O'Connell, Munster. Celtic League, Leinster v Munster, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE
8 December 2001; Paul O'Connell, Munster. Rugby. Picture credit; Damien Eagers / SPORTSFILE
4 November 2011; Sean O'Brien, Leinster, is tackled by Wian Du Preez, left, and Paul O'Connell, Munster. Celtic League, Leinster v Munster, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE
12 December 2010; Munster's Paul O'Connell is shown the red card by referee Christophe Berdos. Heineken Cup Pool 3 - Round 3, Munster v Ospreys, Thomond Park, Limerick. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
11 December 2009; Paul O'Connell, Munster, is tackled by Bertrand Guiry, Perpignan. Heineken Cup Pool 1 Round 3, Munster v Perpignan, Thomond Park, Limerick. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
24 May 2008; Paul O'Connell, Munster. Heineken Cup Final, Munster v Toulouse, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
15 April 2006; Paul O'Connell, Munster, is tackled by Hugo Southwell, Edinburgh Gunners. Celtic League 2005-2006, Group A, Munster v Edinburgh Gunners, Thomond Park, Limerick. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
23 April 2006; Paul O'Connell, Munster, celebrates after the final whistle against Leinster. Heineken Cup 2005-2006, Semi-Final, Leinster v Munster, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
26 February 2000; Paul O'Connell, Young Munster, takes the ball in the lineout. AIB League Rugby, Division 1, St Mary's v Young Munster, Templeville Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Joe Schmidt will be on edge, watching and waiting for an injury-free game without any mad suspensions like Dylan Hartley who will hardly figure now for England in the World Cup.

Trouble

Then there are the injury worries. That said there's only one way to play rugby and that's at full throttle. The cameras are a great help with keeping players out of trouble but finals aren't given up easily.

Out-halves must lead the charge and at the same time plan the battle. Ian Keatley had an off day with his place kicking in the semi- final. It happens to the best. He will be fine today. You can be sure Paul will have been giving him loads of confidence all week.

I can't believe Paul will pull the red jersey over his head for the last time. It's like the mothers who will kiss their kids on the way out to the Leaving. They say, with tears in the eyes, 'It was only like yesterday he was in babies'.

The Munster boys will be whispering the theme privately all week, out of Paul's hearing range. This is for Paul, the man they love and respect above all others. These are the men he clocks in with every day. His friends.

The leaving will inspire Munster and if the players can avoid the draining effects of emotion and channel their love for Paul into "the give all for Paul", victory will be ours.

Read more: Toulon-bound O'Connell must rise to occasion to sign off with one trophy

And what's killing me is that, after all the years of following Munster and writing about Paul, I cannot make it to Belfast for his last game in the red jersey.

Writers' Week is in full flow here in Listowel and there are times when some of us have do a real job to make a living. Here's a quick quote from our big week. This happy man told us: "I arrived as lodger and I'm leaving as a lover."

It's coming back to me now, the first time I saw Paul O'Connell. It was in Cardiff Airport and Paul was walking up and down the aisles with Donncha O'Callaghan. They had the air of men who were desperately disappointed not to have been in the squad.

Later I was lying down on a Lion King mat in the kiddies' play area. My back was bad and my front was worse. I had my appendix and some of the sausage casing in the gut taken out a week earlier. What was even more painful was that we had just been beaten in a European Cup final and, as you can imagine, the form wasn't great.

I saw Paul and he looked even then like a future star. He had a word for everyone and the man sitting on one half of a see-saw told me this young lad was the business.

Today is also my dad's anniversary. Back then, 13 years ago, he hadn't much time left. I told him how well Munster played in defeat and of the huge young lad in the airport who looked like he could launch the jet home up into the air like a paper plane.

Paul will wave his goodbye on Ulster soil and he above any other man will be given a hero's farewell from all sides. For Paul O'Connell is bigger than borders, politics and religion.

Munster will be playing for the glory of the jersey and the glory of the last jersey. We have to give Paul the best send-off.

The whisper in the dressing room will be "Munster to win for you know who".

Read more: Farewell to a legend - Paul O'Connell's Munster career in pictures

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