Saturday 21 October 2017

Tony Ward: Why would O'Connell risk his status as a Limerick legend for a few euro more?

Paul O’Connell is the most iconic figure to come out of Limerick since Mick Mackey BRENDAN MORAN / SPORTSFILE
Paul O’Connell is the most iconic figure to come out of Limerick since Mick Mackey BRENDAN MORAN / SPORTSFILE
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

Should he go or should he stay? I guess only Paul O'Connell himself knows if the apparent French interest did actually tickle his fancy at this stage in a great career.

Were I in his shoes, would I want to leave my home province and move to an alien environment, way out of my comfort zone? And all for what? A wad of euro more?

Paul is a very proud Limerick man and Limerick is very proud of 'Paulie'.

Mick Galwey is a Kerryman, Anthony Foley a Clare native, Keith Wood too. . . but O'Connell, just like Peter Clohessy, is Limerick through and through.

Gaillimh, Axel, Woody and the Claw were great players for the province (and Limerick-based clubs) in their time, Munster legends one and all, but O'Connell stands alone as the brightest star in that galaxy.

In the Treaty City O'Connell occupies legendary status. He is the most iconic figure to come out of Limerick since the great Mick Mackey.

He epitomises everything good about rugby in how he conducts himself on a daily basis.

A parallel could probably be drawn with Steven Gerrard on Merseyside.

Stevie G is pure Scouser, and while no-one begrudges another great role model the opportunity to cash in at the end of a great career - with his move to LA Galaxy - his exit from Anfield, allied to the near move to Chelsea some years back, has posed questions that have not existed in relation to O'Connell.


Rugby is not in the same ball park as soccer when it comes to players' wages, but in a county where hurling is central to the DNA - despite not landing the All-Ireland title since 1973 - O'Connell need only look at so many of his GAA contemporaries who also sweat blood, but for the love of the game, nothing more.

I'm not saying that's right - it's but an argument for another day. The point is that O'Connell is well set on the back of a great career.

He has been blessed with good luck, in the timing of his career, and in being able to live the dream on his own patch.

I am only an 'honorary Limerick man', but I do know what it means to be at the heart of what makes this sports-daft city and its wonderful people tick.

Why would O'Connell want to jeopardise that now, all for a few euro more?

He may not be in JP McManus's league financially but as his playing career winds down he is well set, and by any normal yardstick when hitting his mid-30s that is a pretty good place to be.

And one final point: very shortly Munster will be unveiling their new state-of-the-art training base at UL. It's hard to see any home-grown Munster player wanting to turn his back on that.

The curse of St Munchin states that no Limerick person will ever be successful in their own town. And then came Paul O'Connell.

Meanwhile, on the back of last week's Champions Cup semi-finals, a longlist of 15 players was reduced to a shortlist of five to determine who will be named EPCR Player of the Year for 2015.

The holder, Toulon and England flanker Steffon Armitage, is one of the five vying for the coveted award alongside Nick Abendanon and Fritz Lee of Clermont as well as two other No 8s in Billy Vunipola and Jamie Heaslip. While it's unlikely that Heaslip will follow Rob Kearney and Sean O'Brien this time round (although he is leading the poll), it is acknowledgement at least for a great player still undervalued in his own land.

Yesterday at St Fintan's Cemetery in Sutton the great Jim McCarthy was laid to his rest.

Through Tony O'Reilly I got to know the Grand Slam and Triple Crown-winning flanker in his latter years - and what a man, what a character, what a sense of humour. He simply oozed charisma.

Apparently what a player too. I say apparently because he was before my time and, as with Jackie Kyle, I never got to see him play.

In a sense, it is fitting that he should follow soon after gentleman Jack to that great rugby arena in the sky.

In his 'History of Irish Rugby' Ned Van Esbeck, who knew Jim particularly well, summed up the victory over the Scots at Murrayfield in the 1949 Championship thus: "The Kyle-McCarthy combination simply bedevilled the Scots."

A fine tribute to one of the all-time greats of Irish rugby.

In recent years I have had the privilege of coaching and advising his grandson Kyle (I wonder where Conor and Corina derived that name?)

Kyle is a talented young scrum-half already on the Leinster radar and making his way in a game for which the passion comes so naturally. Suffice to say, he is a very definite chip off Grandad Jim's block.

To his wife Pat, to children Orlaith, James, Cooleen, Clodagh, Patricia, Conor (and Richelle), to his sisters Moira, Sr Aileen, brothers Owen and Dan, as well as his substantial extended family, we offer our sincere condolences. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

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