Saturday 1 October 2016

A legend in my eyes and everyone’s eyes- CJ Stander pays emotional tribute to Paul O'Connell

Published 23/05/2015 | 19:02

23 May 2015; Paul O'Connell, Munster, leaves the pitch after the game. Guinness PRO12 Play-Off, Munster v Ospreys. Thomond Park, Limerick. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
23 May 2015; Paul O'Connell, Munster, leaves the pitch after the game. Guinness PRO12 Play-Off, Munster v Ospreys. Thomond Park, Limerick. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
23 May 2015; Munster's Paul O'Connell checks with concussed teammate Simon Zebo after the game. Guinness PRO12 Play-Off, Munster v Ospreys. Thomond Park, Limerick. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
23 May 2015; Munster's Paul O'Connell waves to the Thomond Park crowd after playing his last home game for the club. Guinness PRO12 Play-Off, Munster v Ospreys. Thomond Park, Limerick. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
23 May 2015; Munster's Paul O'Connell waves to the Thomond Park crowd after playing his last home game for the club. Guinness PRO12 Play-Off, Munster v Ospreys. Thomond Park, Limerick. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
23 May 2015; Munster's Paul O'Connell waves to the Thomond Park crowd after playing his last home game for the club. Guinness PRO12 Play-Off, Munster v Ospreys. Thomond Park, Limerick. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
23 May 2015; Munster's Paul O'Connell is applauded off the field by the Thomond Park crowd after playing his last home game for the club. Guinness PRO12 Play-Off, Munster v Ospreys. Thomond Park, Limerick. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
23 May 2015; Munster's Paul O'Connell waves to the Thomond Park crowd after playing his last home game for the club. Guinness PRO12 Play-Off, Munster v Ospreys. Thomond Park, Limerick. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
23 May 2015; Munster's Paul O'Connell acknowledges the Thomond Park crowd after playing his last home game for the club. Guinness PRO12 Play-Off, Munster v Ospreys. Thomond Park, Limerick. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

The curtain came down on the Thomond Park career of Paul O'Connell today as they secured a place in next week's Guinness Pro12 final at the Ospreys expense.

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The Munster team formed a guard of honour after the game for the Ireland captain who admitted after the game that today's 21-18 win was 'probably' his last game at the legendary Limerick venue.

The 35 year old has been an inspirational figure for many years and has clearly had an impact on South African-born CJ Stander, who was today's man of the match.

"When I was younger I watched him on TV and I never thought I was going to play with him,” Stander told The42.

“To play beside him for the last three years was unbelievable, especially playing the last game with him here.

“I was emotional before the game just to look at him, just to play with him. He’s a legend in my eyes and everyone’s eyes. He’s the type of guy you follow, it doesn’t matter what happens on the pitch.

“After rugby, he’s the type of guy you go to, he’s a leader, he’s a man’s man, he’s a man’s leader. You can describe him as a legend, I look up to him and he gave his best to the red jersey and I’m thankful to play with him. It’s one of the highest points in my career.”

When asked to put his finger on what makes O'Connell so special, he said: "It’s everything.

“The way he plays, he leads from the front. He makes speeches, but it’s in the small words he says, that motivation.

“I remember when I arrived I didn’t play that much in the first year. Every Monday when the team came out, he just told me to keep the faith, keep the faith.

“I owe him everything. I stayed here.”

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