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'Johnny Sexton was in Leinster a week and he told me to f*** off!'

 

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Malcolm O’Kelly at yesterday’s launch of the Ireland v England Legends match. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Malcolm O’Kelly at yesterday’s launch of the Ireland v England Legends match. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Malcolm O’Kelly at yesterday’s launch of the Ireland v England Legends match. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Malcolm O'Kelly allows himself a chuckle about it now, yet at the time the red mist had quickly descended.

Having come through the Leinster system at a time when young players did everything within their power to toe the line, and especially with regard to the more experienced players, it didn't take Johnny Sexton long to buck the trend.

While most players who played alongside Sexton when he first broke through have their own stories about his relentless competitive streak, O'Kelly's ranks up there with one of the most memorable.

"I can remember the first time I was in a match, and I was with him, he abused the hell out of me - and I was the elder statesman of the team," the legendary former lock laughs.

"He told me to f*** off!

"He'd just given away a penalty and I was telling him to get back 10 and he told me to f*** off!

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Malcolm O’Kelly  in action for Leinster alongside Johnny Sexton in 2006. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Malcolm O’Kelly in action for Leinster alongside Johnny Sexton in 2006. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

"He was only in there a wet week. I was pretty p****d off with him. So I gave out to him and he gave out to me again."

O'Kelly smiles as he says that a young player had never spoken to him in such a manner and no one else ever did, but as soon as the initial anger subsided, it left him with no doubt that Sexton was a natural-born leader, albeit a fiery one.

Much has been made of how the out-half handled the occasion in Thomond Park as Leinster captain, with another former team-mate Brian O'Driscoll the most outspoken.

The reality remains, however, that if you remove that fiery approach, Sexton would not be half the player he is, which begs the next question: did he need to be named captain?

"Well, he's a leader, it's just whether he was given the hat," O'Kelly insists.

"He was a leader from day one. I don't make too much out of it because he is who he is. He's a great leader. Off the pitch, he runs the show. Now they've just said, 'Look, now you've got that.' It's a lot for him.

"Leinster wanted him there because they lost Isa (Nacewa). I'd say Johnny wanted it. I think he really wants it.

"There is no perfect captain material. Brian O'Driscoll became captain but Brian was very quiet, he was his own man and he was a bit of a dude.

"But certainly by the end he was proper captain material. But Johnny has only stepped into it, so I think you have to give him a bit of a leash."

For now, the issue appears to be a storm in a teacup and given the amount of outstanding captains that Sexton has played for, as well as having a former skipper as cool-headed as Leo Cullen as his head coach to guide him, will certainly help.

"Well that's the type of guy he is," O'Kelly continues.

"They're taking a lot from the fact that he had conversations with the referee. I think most guys have conversations with the referee.

"Are we saying that he went over the line? That he was over-confrontational? That's the idea, or did we get something that said he was over the line? He was just being feisty.

"That's who he is, he's always going to fiery. They pick him as captain, I suppose, that was his biggest challenge that he had so far. Maybe if he doesn't recover and improve his attitude, it might be good for him that he has to cool it down for him. Maybe he shouldn't be a captain, I don't know.

"I don't think he'll make a big thing of it. Is it antagonistic? Martin Johnson, these type of guys. They lost their cool, they pressured referees.

"That's his character. Mick Galwey would have been a good man for pressuring the referee, maybe from his physical stature, his presence, give him a shadow.

"Johnny is an abrasive character but he's also a good player, he must be respected as well by the referee.

"If he feels they're not getting a fair crack of the whip, maybe he needs to say it. I can understand what he was saying. There was an issue that Conor Murray had a high tackle and Cian Healy had been binned for the same thing. So yeah, he's got some point.

"The referee can say, 'That's their first one.' Cian was a result of three by Leinster before he got binned. It was Munster's first one that we saw, I'm sure there were a couple of others.

"He's done a lot for Leinster. When you think of the Northampton match, his belief was incredible.

"It was something bigger that was driven us to success. He has an incredible belief."

Malcolm O'Kelly was speaking at the launch of Ireland v England Rugby Legends charity match on February 1. For tickets, search #RugbyLegends or visit Ticketmaster.

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Sexton was joined on stage by his godfather, Irish Independent journalist, Billy Keane.
 

Irish Independent