Friday 9 December 2016

Neil Francis: It galls me that a signature on a cheque can buy Paul O'Connell

Glasgow won playing a smashing brand of rugby, writes Neil Francis

Published 31/05/2015 | 02:30

Yesterday was Paul O'Connell’s final game for Munster
Yesterday was Paul O'Connell’s final game for Munster

Just like Brian O'Driscoll we knew this day was coming and now that it has happened most of us are unwilling or unable to countenance the consequences. Yesterday was the great man's final game in red. It is a landmark, time for pause for thought.

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We never stopped in the act of chipping away at our capacity to marvel at the breadth of his skill range and his athletic selflessness, the champion's impulse to take responsibility, the dominant characteristics to do the right thing for his team when it was required and all of these tasks riven by unquenchable desire and continual self-sacrifice and constantly performing impossible tasks that he mastered for years but had repeated to the same levels of excellence season in season out.

If the moon and stars only appeared to us once every 14 or 15 years we would stare in awe from our doorsteps and marvel at their brilliance. Maybe we have taken Paul O'Connell for granted and his loss will only be acknowledged when lesser lights beam only a fraction of the illumination which his exemplar personality breathed into performances on the rugby pitches around the world that he graced.

His corporeal fragility, a by-product of his heroic endeavour may cost him later in life. His forthcoming medical and MRI scans may not be for the faint-hearted but I do profess to a slight tinge of regret that of all the clubs that he goes to that it belongs to Mourad Boudjellal. A confession of character may be needed to shake hands with Boudjellal.

The comic book seller buys all around him and may not be fully aware of exactly what he has got or how this player's character was forged. It galls me that a signature on a cheque can buy it. Nobody begrudges O'Connell's choice in the last two years of his career. The hope is he manages to see out his sabbatical without any further significant damage.

Life as we are told is not a rehearsal and in relation to O'Connell if you bought the ticket and took the ride you won't be asking for your money back. But last night was a sad way to end his career as Munster suffered a chastening defeat.

Glasgow were far too smart and had far too many threats. This one you could chalk down to Gregor Townsend and his ability not to be disheartened from last year's thrashing in the RDS. That match was just a chapter in the journey because with the firepower that they have this Glasgow team can compete at European level next year.

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

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

The thing about clever coaches is that if you devote yourself to an idea and have the vision and confidence to follow it through then you will get there. Glasgow have borrowed from watching the best team in the league over the last five years and Leinster can now see what the standard is.

Glasgow's skill levels, even under pressure, were very good and even though Munster had a sense of what was coming, there wasn't much that they could do. They stood off at the breakdown and tried to flood the ground on either side but it couldn't hold and it was disquieting to see Munster fall off so many tackles.

Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams and Keith Earls all showed vulnerability when it came to first up tackles and Glasgow's big skilful runners always got the ball away. Not only could they not slow the ball, they couldn't get it back.

When Henry Pyrgos latched onto Stuart Hogg's inside pass for the third try to make it 21-3 that was pretty much game over. Munster did their best by trying to get some traction at the set piece and get their maul going again and they did make profit here but only on a limited basis and once Glasgow got close again you knew that they were going to score.

After getting themselves so far along this season, Munster must think again and understand that the bar is now set by Glasgow, who really deserved their victory playing a smashing brand of rugby.

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

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