O’Connell hails Wallace impact after Munster ace calls it a day
PAUL O'CONNELL yesterday described David Wallace as "the best Munster player of the past 12 years" and said the flanker's decision to retire was a sad day for the province.
Following on from John Hayes, Jerry Flannery and Mick O'Driscoll, Wallace has become the fourth Munster player to announce his retirement this season after failing to recover sufficiently from the knee injury which ruled him out of the World Cup last August.
"It is incredibly sad," said O'Connell. "For me, he has probably been Munster's best player for the past 10 or 12 years. He has just been incredible. He has been our real power-athlete that we have gone to time and time again to get us over the gain-line and score tries.
"When he picked up the injury in August he was probably in the best shape he was ever in in all of his career and he probably had a good few years of playing ahead of him, despite his age.
"He is an incredible guy. When I first came into the squad, I was struck by how friendly everyone was to young guys who came into the team, but probably him more than anyone," added the Munster captain.
"A fantastic player, an incredible competitor -- people didn't realise how competitive and how driven he was because he had such a jovial personality, but he is going to be a big loss to both Munster and Ireland now."
Wallace's decision brings to an end a professional career which dates back to 1997 and was littered with achievement, including two Heineken Cups, two Lions tours and a Grand Slam over the course of 203 caps for his province and 72 for Ireland.
A superb ball-carrier, Wallace could play across the back-row and while his most regular location for Munster and Ireland was in the No 7 jersey, he turned in some superb performances in the No 8 jersey under Tony McGahan after the retirement of Anthony Foley.
As well as being a stand-out performer for Munster for the past 12 years, it could also be justifiably argued that Wallace was one Ireland's most consistent performers over the same period when, after a battle with Keith Gleeson in the early 2000s, he became a go-to selection in the back-row.
The 35-year-old admitted yesterday that having to step away from rugby was a massive blow as he had hoped to continue for another two to three years.
"I don't think my age would have restricted me," said Wallace. "I felt like I did at 25 and there was no reason in my mind that I couldn't have played on for a few more years and I don't think anyone else in that situation should be dictated to by numbers and figures; just go and be guided how your body feels.
"Obviously, it's not the position I wanted to be in, ideally I would have wanted to play on, but when I sit and think about it for any longer than five seconds, it's plain to me what the decision is.
"Talking to medics, players, coaches, friends and family, it's very clear to me in that sense and that makes it quite easy mentally to make the decision. If I wasn't comfortable with it or if I felt for a second I wasn't doing the right thing, it would be a lot harder. I feel I'm making the right decision and feel I'm at ease with it."
Wallace paid tribute to elder brothers Richard and Paul, who also represented Ireland and the Lions with distinction and set an example for him to follow.
"It's something that really helped me in my career too," he said. "Growing up and seeing what they did to get to the levels that they did, the work they put in and how it paid off, that was very enlightening and guided me in my career.
"When I got called out for the Lions in 2001 and I was told it was the first time that three brothers played for the Lions, it was very special."
Wallace said he has no immediate plans to get into coaching and plans to spend some time with wife Aileen and his young sons, Andrew and Harvey, while he has "a couple of business opportunities" he wants to explore.
Universally popular among players, management, supporters and media, Wallace will be remembered as one of Ireland's finest back-rows as well as setting an example for any aspiring professional to follow, on and off the pitch.