Monday 26 February 2018

O'Driscoll's exclusion took the gloss off series win - O'Connell

Lock hails Leinster man's 'brilliant' reaction to 'shock and disappointment' of being dropped

Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell on Saturday
Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell on Saturday
David Kelly

David Kelly

Paul O'Connell is trying to look forward but, even as he wallows in the Lions triumph, his good friend Brian O'Driscoll's omission from the final Test still drags him back in time.

"Ah look, he was brilliant the way he handled it," O'Connell said admiringly. "He is so experienced. I had never seen him so disappointed and devastated in my life. But he did both training sessions after he got dropped and stayed on and I think he was the last man on the bus.

"We had a community initiative with coaching and signing and Brian was the last man on the bus. He didn't touch a beer until after the Test, he was just very impressive because it was probably the toughest few days of his career."

Before a chaotic media event to launch his business interest in energy company Pinergy, he elaborated upon the theme on Today FM.

Disappointed

"I was shocked and disappointed," he said. "I thought Brian was playing well. If you look at the first two Tests, there wasn't a whole lot of quality ball given to the backline.

"Apart from George North, who had a ball kicked down his throat and created an unbelievable try, there weren't any backs that stood out.

"After playing so long with him, you end up being a bit of a fan. I wouldn't say it took the gloss off it a little bit for me, but it probably did. It's a shame he wasn't out there.

"Even going on the bus with him; I was injured and there were other guys resigned to the fact that they weren't on the team. It just felt wrong that he was on the bus with the non-playing squad, not in the 23. So it's hard to fathom the logic behind the decision, certainly from my point of view."

O'Connell missed the final two Tests with a broken arm, as many of the nation's phone-in junkies may have forgotten. The Munster man's own anguish was mingled with happiness that he seems to be back to full fitness after back surgery earlier this year.

"It was really enjoyable and I learned a lot. For a guy like me that was trying to catch up on fitness due to a lack of games and trying to look after the body, the short and sharp sessions suited me.

"So yeah, I definitely viewed the tour as a positive. It was a bit of a disappointing end. I was delighted that we won but you don't feel exactly a part of it as the guys when you look around the changing-room on the video.

"The guys who played in that final game are the guys who probably celebrated the hardest while the rest of us, albeit we are enjoying it, you can't help feel it after not being involved on the pitch."

He believes Ireland's Lions contingent can now kick on with the national side under new management.

"One thing you realise is that you need to win these big competitions, you need good players playing well," he said. "Maybe a few times in the past, Ireland have had a lot of good players but we haven't always produced our best form all at the same time.

"You look at the majority of the tour and for the last Test we'd a lot of really good players playing really well. That's when it comes together and that's what we need to do. We've some serious talent there, young guys as well who are in good shape and Stephen Ferris can hopefully come back from his injury.

"There are a lot of fantastic players and we just need to get better as a team. For sure in the last few years we have been trying hard to get it right and we have not always done that. Hopefully under Joe (Schmidt) we can do that."

O'Connell has invested in Pinergy, a pay-as-you-go electricity service, with one eye on his post-playing career – he marries Emily later this month so these are busy times. Thankfully, with his fitness renewed, swapping playing kit for pinstripe suit full-time is not an immediate prospect.

"I suppose we're all worried when we hit 30 about life after rugby and I've been looking to get involved in a start-up for a while," he said. "I got approached by Enda Gunnell, the CEO, ended up doing my own research and I suppose there's an opportunity in Ireland for pay-as-you-go electricity.

"At the moment I have an ambassadorial role. I'm not sure what that will evolve into as time goes on when I end up retiring, but at the moment I'm really happy to be involved with them and I'm learning a little bit as well.

"I've done nothing but rugby for 12 years so it's good to be involved in something and have something I can possibly fall back on.

"That's a while yet, though. I feel very good. On the tour, it was probably the best I've felt in a very long time in terms of the body. I'd love to play until the next World Cup and see where I go from there."

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