Paul O'Connell: We're outsiders for the World Cup; in 2007 we were engulfed by expectation
Ireland captain Paul O'Connell believes Ireland will enter the 2015 World Cup as outsiders and gives his team only a "slim chance" of winning the tournament.
While Ireland has never made it past the quarter-final stage at any previous tournament, back-to-back Six Nations titles, a clean sweep of the November internationals and a narrow, agonising defeat to the All Blacks still in the memory, expectations are growing that Ireland will be in the final shake-up.
O'Connell says he is excited by the prospect of making up for previous disappointments and ready for the preparation.
"I feel very good about it and I'm really looking forward to it," the adidas ambassador says. "I enjoy the way we handle the expectation."
"I'm sure Joe and the management look forward to the bigger picture and that, but as players we're just encouraged to look at what's ahead of you and prepare for that as best you can. I've the rest of this week off and then hopefully I'm into a three-week run-in, if we're lucky it could be a four-week run-in.
Four weeks off and then we're into pre-season and we're into the big pre-World Cup friendlies then.
"We are put under a lot of pressure on how we prepare for games and it takes away the distraction of the bigger picture.
The legendary Munster figure cautions that despite all the optimism around Schmidt's all-conquering side, the disastrous World Cup campaign of eight years ago should not be forgotten.
"Certainly in 2007 we got engulfed with the expectation of the World Cup and we felt that we had to say we had a chance of winning it, to make ourselves believe it, but I think going into this one we know that we if we do a whole load of things right between now and the World Cup we can put ourselves in with a chance.
"It's a slim chance and it's an outside chance. I just think it's a good way of approaching the competition, it's a good way of approaching things. It has worked really well for us in the last 18 months under Joe, not getting too obsessed with the bigger picture and focusing on the here and now."
It is clear that 2007 still haunts the big second-row who feels he and others over-trained for that tournament.
"We were given time off to allow the training to accumulate," he recalls.
"I remember chatting to Donners (Donncha O'Callaghan), Strings (Peter Stringer) and Rog (Ronan O'Gara), we never actually took the time off, we used to go back home and do our own training.
"That is going to be an important thing, that experience, because normally we don't spend pre-season with Ireland. At World Cups you spend all the time together in Irish camp. You have the top players in the country.
"So it ends up being very, very competitive, you end up training very, very hard and if you don't take your down time and allow the training to accumulate you can end up over-training. That would be the big thing for me in 2007, that I kind of overdid it a little bit and a few of us did it.
"We had such high hopes. Unfortunately, we didn't perform at all, we didn't do what we did in 2011 when we played well but lost to a good Welsh team. We just completely flopped and didn't perform at all. It was just a really disappointing experience in every way."
If it is to be the end, O'Connell is determined that he'll go out having given the world's biggest tournament one last crack... If.
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