Retirement beckons warhorse O'Connell as injury proves one battle too many
"A leader, a lion, a legend". That was how Munster Rugby described one of its favourite sons, Paul O'Connell, as he announced his retirement yesterday.
The 36-year-old confirmed he was hanging up his boots following medical advice because of a horrific hamstring injury picked up playing for Ireland at the World Cup last year.
His latest injury setback was one bridge too far the giant of Irish rugby.
"Since sustaining the injury at the World Cup I have been fully focused on returning to fitness and starting an exciting new chapter for both myself and my family in Toulon. Unfortunately this will no longer be possible," he said.
"I have been blessed to be a professional rugby player for over 14 years and to be part of Munster and Ireland teams that have experienced success."
The Limerick man paid tribute to his family.
"Special thanks must go to my wife Emily for her unwavering support through the good and the bad, and to my parents Michael and Shelagh.
"Lastly I would like to thank everyone who has supported the teams I have been a part of."
The worlds of sport, politics and academia, as well as friends and former colleagues all paid tribute to the former Ireland, Munster and Lions captain.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny took time away from his election canvass to thank the Limerick man for his dedication to rugby.
"A giant of Irish sport. Thank you Paul O'Connell, enjoy your retirement."
Brian O'Driscoll said that his former teammate was "simply irreplaceable". "Really disappointing to see Paul O'Connell having to retire. Sensational career in red and green."
Munster legend Ronan O'Gara also paid tribute to O'Connell, along with Leinster man Gordon D'Arcy, former Kilkenny hurler Henry Shefflin and ex-Manchester United star Paul McGrath.
O'Connell was unveiled as a Toulon player after last year's World Cup but never got to feature for the French side as he struggled to regain his fitness.
"Something beautiful and fitting, the great man retires as a one club man. The pride of Limerick and a role model for the rest of the country," said O'Gara.
His former Munster and Ireland teammate Donnacha Ryan said he was disappointed that O'Connell's move to France never materialised but added it was a privilege to play with him.
"It was humbling to be a student of his and an incentive to stay in Munster and sacrifice game time in order to have the ability to train with him," said Ryan.
"He'll be successful with whatever he does with the next part of his life."
His alma mater, the University of Limerick (UL), awarded him an honorary doctorate last year and wished Dr O'Connell a happy retirement.
UL President Professor Don Barry said: "I wish him a happy and healthy retirement and I know I speak on behalf of our entire community in that wish."