Sunday 17 December 2017

O'Connell's legacy will live long

Paul O'Connell (SPORTSFILE)
Paul O'Connell (SPORTSFILE)

John Fallon

Munster head into what is really being regarded as the second half of the season with Paul O'Connell's retirement overshadowing just about everything else this week.

The former Munster, Ireland and Lions skipper may have departed last summer, ostensibly to see out his final days as a player with Toulon in the south of France, but all tributes this week made it clear that his legacy would live on for a long, long time with the Reds.

And as Munster prepare to launch their bid for the league crown, a title O'Connell won three times with the Reds, it is inevitable that a new era has now started with the retirement of perhaps the finest player ever to wear the jersey.

Assistant coach Brian Walsh said that O'Connell's legacy would live a long time in Munster.

"It is very hard to encapsulate in a few words or sentences everything he has been to this place. I think an awful lot of people talk about what he has done on the pitch, particularly which is obvious for people to see, his leadership and so on, I would have been genuinely surprised to see how much he did for people off the pitch - surprised is probably the wrong word - but in terms of younger players, bringing them on, pushing their standards, always had time for people, regardless of where they were playing, allowing all the players and people around him to be as good as they could be."

Walsh, who was heading towards retirement as a player just as O'Connell was arriving on the scene, said that the big lock forward set standards which others would follow for many years.

"From my involvement here, his driving of standards, his challenging of everyone, players, coaches, staff, always looking to be better in every aspect, wherever we could pick up a bit more. He always had time for people off the pitch as well to help them become better professionals more than anything," added Walsh.

A new generation of Munster players is emerging, and on Sunday they will entertain Ospreys in an effort to take a step towards the first silverware in five seasons - the longest period Munster have been without a trophy since O'Connell made his debut back in August 2001 against Edinburgh for the first of 174 appearances for his native province.

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