Sunday 22 April 2018

Paul O'Connell to address European team today as Darren Clarke searches for inspiration

Paul O'Connell will address the European team at Hazeltine today
Paul O'Connell will address the European team at Hazeltine today

Oliver Brown

Paul O’Connell, the former Ireland rugby captain, will on Tuesday seek to galvanise Europe’s Ryder Cup players with a speech that captures the ‘shoulder to shoulder’ spirit that he championed throughout his international career.

Darren Clarke, who has approached his duties as captain in unparalleled detail, has long been keen to enlist an iconic sports figure to motivate his team as they pursue a fourth consecutive Ryder Cup triumph at Hazeltine this week. O’Connell, who arrived at Minneapolis Airport last night, is precisely the type of uncompromising, inspirational figure he has been looking for as a guest speaker.

The idea of standing shoulder to shoulder, encapsulated in the song Ireland’s Call – now performed by the rugby team before every Test – is one about which Clarke is passionate and will form the team’s credo for the entire week.

Clarke had originally considered trying to persuade Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, who was invited to Medinah for the last Ryder Cup in the US by then captain José María Olazábal, but chose O’Connell in view of his extraordinary leadership qualities.

The lock competed in 108 Tests for Ireland and captained the British and Irish Lions on two consecutive tours, prior to his retirement earlier this year. He is also a single-handicap golfer and a member of Limerick Golf Club.

Whether the distinctively Irish ‘shoulder to shoulder’ message will resonate so strongly with the continental members of Europe’s team, such as Henrik Stenson and Sergio García, is more uncertain, but Clarke is determined that there should be a consistent message.

There remains the tantalising possibility, too, that Alex Ferguson could yet have a role to play in the European team room this week. Ferguson spoke to both players and caddies during the last instalment at Gleneagles and had several conversations with Clarke during this year’s Masters at Gleneagles. Clarke is understood to have looked for particular advice from Ferguson on how to manage conflicting personalities in a team.

Online Editors

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport