Saturday 14 December 2019

'Typical Paulie, he cuts to the chase' - BOD recalls private captaincy debate with Paul O'Connell

Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell in action for Ireland in 2013.
Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell in action for Ireland in 2013.

Declan Whooley

Irish rugby fans were fortunate to have two world class leaders in the shape of Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell and both men clearly had the utmost of respect for eachother.

Paul O’Connell bowed out of the sport yesterday after battling the injury he suffered against France in last year’s World Cup, less than two years after O’Driscoll called time on his own glittering career.

The two greats soldiered side-by-side for 11 years in green, both captaining their country to success during a golden period in Irish rugby. O’Driscoll wore the skipper’s armband when Triple Crowns were secured and the 2009 Grand Slam, while O’Connell oversaw championship success in 2014 and 2015.

As tributes pour in for the retired O’Connell, a passage from O’Driscoll’s autobiography ‘The Test’ illustrates the level of respect between two of Ireland;s greatest ever servants.

Cast your mind back to the start of the 2009 Six Nations campaign.

Munster are the reigning Heineken Cup champions - their second success in three years - and Leinster are yet to flex their European muscles. They are of course weeks away from dethroning their inter-provincial rivals in Croke Park on their way to a first European title, but before that there is the small matter of the Six Nations. A campaign that would end in the ultimate glory of a Grand Slam.

Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll
Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll

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When the squad meet in Enfield for a three-day international camp prior to the start of the tournament, the pecking order is clear to everyone.

With O'Driscoll struggling to match his sky-high standards on the pitch, and away from the game still coming to terms with the tragic loss of his close friend Barry Twomey, he admits in his book  that he feared his place as national captain was under threat.

Paul O'Connell is the obvious candidate to take over should coach Declan Kidney decide for a captaincy change.

"There are journalists calling for the captaincy to be taken off me and given to Paulie for the Six Nations," he wrote in ‘The Test’. "I know I still have the Leinster guys with me, but Munster outnumber us two to one".

That particular camp will be best remembered for Rob Kearney questioning whether the Munster contingent bring the same passion to the green jersey that they show to wearing red.

"Even if the Munster players don't believe it, they definitely think about it. Just having the discussion brings us closer as a squad."

It is however an exchange between O'Driscoll and O'Connell, two of the greatest servants to Irish rugby, which illustrates just why the Limerick man is receiving plaudits near and far for his character as well as playing ability.

In one particular passage, Ireland's record try-scorer admits his friendship with O'Connell "isn't as close as the one I have with Ronan O'Gara" before adding the pair speak on the phone from time to time "to give one another a steer on something or other".

"Away from the Ireland camp we're healthy rivals but I very much enjoy his company off the field and I couldn't have any more respect for him on it."

O'Driscoll then describes a conversation between the pair in camp after Kidney retains the Leinster centre as his captain, despite a growing clamour for O'Connell.

"It's been a while since we talked properly and it's a measure of the man that he comes to my room to make sure there's no problem between us," he writes. "Typical Paulie, he cuts to the chase."

"He says he's not looking for the captaincy, not unless I don't want to do it anymore."

The Dubliner, not keen to relinquish the armband, tells his team-mate that he has heard the rumours surrounding the captaincy issue.

"Where do you stand on it?" the Munster captain asks O'Driscoll. "Do you think I was looking for the job?"

"Well, I'm quite happy in my role," O'Driscoll replies. "Just so you know."

"By the time we're through talking any unspoken tension between us has gone, and it's mostly down to Paulie for taking the bull by the horns."

"A big man in more ways than one."

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