Saturday 22 July 2017

'I've been on the flat of my back for two weeks' – Paul O'Connell reveals he could be sidelined for a long time

Paul O'Connell leaves the pitch with Dr Eanna Falvey
Paul O'Connell leaves the pitch with Dr Eanna Falvey
Declan Whooley

Declan Whooley

Paul O'Connell has admitted that he cannot put a timeframe on his return to action after the hamstring injury that ended his international career in the World Cup.

The Ireland captain could only helplessly watch on as his Irish team-mates made disappointing World Cup exit at the hands of Argentina at the quarter-final stage after he was stretchered from the field of play in the Pool victory over France at the Millennium Stadium.

The Limerick native, who signed for French kingpins Toulon at the end of the last campaign, is currently rehabbing the injury back home and is unclear as to when he will make the move to France for the final chapter in his playing career.

The hamstring injury, the worst in his career he says, has meant that he has been immobile since he returned prematurely from the tournament.

11 October 2015; Paul O'Connell, Ireland, shortly before leaving the pitch on a stretcher. 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool D, Ireland v France. Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
11 October 2015; Paul O'Connell, Ireland, shortly before leaving the pitch on a stretcher. 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool D, Ireland v France. Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

"I stayed with the squad for the Argentina game and I was operated on the Thursday," he said.

"I have been on the flat of my back. I got out of the hotel to go to the game, then we travelled home and I have literally just been on the flat of my back for the past two weeks.

"I'm pain free. Well I was pain free after about a week, and I'm pain free sitting down now for about four weeks. The Munster lads took me out for lunch twice and Emily took me for a pizza once, but apart from that I haven't left the house.

"It's a frustrating time."

The former Lions captain admitted that he could be out of action for anywhere between four and eight months.

"It's very approximate. It could be between four and eight months, you just don't know. The surgeon was very happy with how the surgery went."

Ireland captain Paul O'Connell alongside his team-mates in Cardiff
Ireland captain Paul O'Connell alongside his team-mates in Cardiff

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The pain he recalls was truly excruciating.

"It’s the worst injury pain I’ve had, because your sciatic nerve runs really close to where the tendon is,” said O’Connell. “Apparently when you pull the tendon off the bone, you get a lot bleeding and a lot of bruising, a lot of swelling straight away, which hits the sciatic nerve.

“That’s where the pain comes from. It’s funny the amount of things that go through your head when it happens. I thought of when Eoin Reddan broke his ankle (against France in the 2013 Six Nations), and I remember him trying to get up.

“I was thinking of myself on the ground, that I’d only pulled my hamstring so I better get up. But it was too sore and then when the physio and the doctor came on, I was thinking the same thing again: ‘it’s only my hamstring so I don’t need to be stretchered off’.

The lock forward admitted that while he hasn’t spoken to Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal since the injury, he has been in regular contact with the coaching and medical staff at the club.

"I spoke to the physio in Toulon last week and he said it's an injury that you just have to do your time with it.

"A lot of injuries, there is a lot you can do straight away. With this one, you really have to put down a tough six weeks where you just have to be very careful, particularly the first two weeks.

"Even if I got scanned now, it's hard to tell if it's right or wrong.

"It's just a really difficult, awkward injury."

Following a World Cup where the southern hemisphere sides showed the supremacy over their northern counterparts, O'Connell believes Ireland are still punching above their weight in light of the sporting context.

Joe Schmidt's side bowed out at the quarter-final stage to Argentina, along with Wales, Scotland in France to ensure a first-ever World Cup with all four semi-finalists from below the equator.

There have been widespread post-mortems into the abject failure of the Six Nations sides – England failing to emerge from the pool stages – but the international lock believes that the competition for sports within Ireland means the country will always struggle at the elite rugby level.

A sports-mad country, the Limerick man can see within his household the appeal in other sports.

"I even see it on my road at home, with my son and all his friends. They are all rugby mad now after the World Cup," he said.

"The soccer is back on now and they are beginning to play a little more soccer now. Soon it's going to be hurling and there is going to be more hurling."

The All Blacks made it back-to-back World Cup titles at Twickenham and the 36-year-old recalled a tale from a former Munster team-mate to illustrate how it is a completely different landscape in New Zealand.

"People talk about New Zealand and their skill level, where they are at, but the fact is, to me, they are the Kilkenny of world rugby," he said.

"Tony Buckley who played with Munster was on exchange in New Zealand when he was younger and he said they went out for 10 minutes at small break and played tag rugby. They went out at big break and played full tackle rugby. Then they had rugby training after school.

"When we go for break, we probably played soccer, in Kilkenny they play hurling. I just think a New Zealander has probably accumulated hundreds, maybe even thousands of hours more rugby than an Irish kid has.

"That's why I'm disappointed we didn't make the semi-finals because we probably would have changed a little bit of that.

"It's part of New Zealand's culture. If rugby was our number one sport, henry Shefflin would be playing rugby, playing first centre.

"The best brains in hurling would be in rugby, you'd have Brian Cody involved in hurling. That's what they have in New Zealand and that's what we don't have up here."

The challenge O'Connell feels is to have rugby entrenched in the minds of children and that it will have a knock-on effect on the skill level of players in the country.

Considering the current landscape, he argues that the Six Nations champions are punching above their weight in the international arena.

"You want to see kids walking down the road with a rugby ball. We need to try and bridge that gap and I think the skill level will improve.

"I do think we punch way above our weight."

Paul O'Connell was speaking as a brand ambassador for PINERGY at the launch of PINERGYsmart which offers consumers a smart in-home display and a first market mobile app which, combined, can conveniently help consumers use less and pay less for their electricity.

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