Tuesday 19 February 2019

Sinead Kissane: Whatever future holds, Paul O'Connell will seize the day

Paul O'Connell goes through his exercise routine at Munster training
Paul O'Connell goes through his exercise routine at Munster training
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

What do you say when Paul O'Connell admits he could retire as early as October? Do you do a Tommie Gorman and ask him "what about the children?"

Do you point out (rather selfishly) that Irish rugby just can't lose another icon so soon after BOD? Or do you question your own longevity because if O'Connell has to retire then the rest of us are surely screwed?

The Ireland captain said he will make a decision in the next few months on the terms of his retirement; he will sign-off either after the Rugby World Cup or when his current deal runs out at the end of the 2015/16 season. Maybe he already has his mind made up.

Either way, there won't be a new contract. There won't be a repeat of any odd speculation like the report last year linking him with a move to French side Pau. O'Connell might be ready to let go at some stage in the next year. But are we?

I couldn't help but say "don't go Paul" as my interview with him wrapped up on Tuesday. He had already admitted in an interview with an English newspaper before Christmas that he was undecided about his future. Still, listening to him ponder about the end of his playing days left you feeling deflated.

I don't want to gorge on any hyperbole. But it's because of his uncompromising physicality and non-negotiable attitude that we rarely see any vunerability from him on the pitch. He doesn't do cruise control. Add that to the caricature and the links with a fantasy superhero, and we almost allow ourselves to believe that this man is unbreakable.

Of course he's not; he's had to endure plenty of injuries. When he attended a press conference in Limerick in January 2013 there were rumours about whether this was the end for him. Ten days earlier he had surgery on his back to correct a bulging disc. He conceded that he had doubts about his future but post-surgery he was confident he would return playing in three months' time. What did O'Connell do then?

display

He was back playing in April and gave a jaw-dropping display against Harlequins in the Heineken Cup quarter-final win. That performance alone was enough to get him on the plane for the Lions Tour to Australia.

No wonder we see him as being as close to invincible as any Irish player we've ever had. His form for an inconsistent Munster has been patchy so far this season but he thrived for Ireland in the November Tests. Who can forget his driving tackle on the unsuspecting Ben McCalman against Australia. It was a smasher not only because of how far back he drove McCalman but because it came in the final minutes of the final Test of the November Series. It's what the word relentless was made for.

What we don't see are the big and small things he has to do to ensure he can play at an optimum level. Before every training session, O'Connell has a small routine before the main warm-up.

He puts a band around his ankles and another just below his knees and he waddles along the pitch with his arms in a quasi-prayer position. The exercise helps him to stretch muscles in his legs. It used to be an odd sight to see when he started it first. But, who cares as long as it helps him.

Just because O'Connell's name might not get mentioned in an injury update, it doesn't necessarily mean he's injury-free. I assumed he missed Munster's game against Zebre last weekend because he was rested. But it was actually because of a shoulder problem he picked up during their defeat to Connacht.

At training on Tuesday, O'Connell did his own training which included hits to "get some confidence" in his shoulder before he joined the rest of the squad. He said, convincingly, that he will be fully fit to play against Saracens today in the Champions Cup.

So when you rewind his career, it probably won't be too surprising if he decides to call time after the Rugby World Cup. We used to spin it in the past with him that maybe his injuries would lengthen his playing career because of the time spent in recovery and rehab. But he said on Tuesday that he reckons his catalogue of injuries have taken a bit off his longevity as "there are things you can't do in training because of those injuries".

O'Connell believes he's in good shape now. Listening to him, I couldn't escape the sense that he wants a final big push for the World Cup. He'll turn 36 in the week leading up to the World Cup semi-finals.

And while he's like the Daddy of Munster and Ireland rugby, you think of his two kids at home - his son Paddy and his baby daughter Lola - and you want this man to be in good physical nick when he retires.

For now, it's business as usual. O'Connell's influence will be felt by his team-mates as normal today but it will also extend to the out-half playing for Sarries. When he captained the Lions team for the Barbarians game in Hong Kong in 2013, O'Connell picked out one player after and piled the praise on him.

"The guy is 22 years of age and barking at everyone and driving everyone around the pitch. We should be all f****** doing it," O'Connell rallied. That 22 year old was Owen Farrell who will play at No. 10 against Munster. He must have felt almost superhuman after hearing O'Connell say that about him in front of everyone.

You can bet that despite his recent flaky form, Farrell will want to be everything O'Connell would expect of him. But first, O'Connell will want to be everything he expects of himself.

America's Nascar champion and the 'assassin'

The most bizarre story of the week came courtesy of a case in Delaware in the US. Nascar driver Kurt Busch claimed that his ex-girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, is a "trained assassin".

Busch was in court because of a request for a no-contact order on him from Driscoll. During the four day trial, Busch claimed that Driscoll was a hired killer and that she went on covert missions around the world. He told of one occasion in El Paso, Texas when she left wearing camouflage gear and returned that evening wearing a trench coat over a dress covered with blood.

Just as you think this sounds like a movie script, Busch also revealed that Driscoll claimed that a female character in the film Zero Dark Thirty was based on her and other women.

Driscoll denies these claims. "These statements made about being a trained assassin, hired killer, are ludicrous and without basis and are an attempt to destroy my credibility," Driscoll insisted.

She said her 'ex' is taking his claims "straight from a fictional movie script" which she has been working on about a female CIA operative. Driscoll also stated that "Mr Busch's statements in court serve to confirm my belief that he needs professional counselling to deal with his alcoholism and issues of depression."

Also this week a YouTube video happened to surface of Driscoll which shows her talking about her defence company, working for the United States government and shooting. This case is a proverbial minefield.

Busch and Driscoll broke up last autumn after Driscoll accused Busch of assaulting her. The 2004 Sprint Cup Series Champion has denied the allegations which are the subject of a separate criminal investigation.

Bizarre Ronaldo roar is lost in translation

I MUST admit that I'm still awaiting the official translation from FIFA  on what Cristiano Ronaldo was trying to say with that roar after he won the Ballon d'Or in the glitzy awards ceremony in Zurich on Monday night.

He was doing fine with his acceptance speech - thanking his mother and his son and not playing it fake by lavishing false praise on Lionel Messi and Manuel Neuer.

He finished with a fist pump and then this earthy roar just bellowed out of him. Straight away you could hear sniggers from the audience before they were drowned out with the clapping.

The Portugal star later explained to Spanish TV that the roar is just a thing he does with Real Madrid. "The scream? The players know I always do that shout when I score a goal or when we win. It's our shout, from Real Madrid," the self-styled CR7 revealed.

Do we now have to expect the typical copycats? Instead of talking, will there just be roaring? Doesn't Ronaldo know the influence he has on impressionable footballers like, oh, Southampton midfielder Dusan Tadic for example.

Did you see the state of Tadic's celebration when he scored against Manchester United last weekend. The ridiculous part wasn't that he attempted to copy Ronaldo's infamous goal-scoring stance. But as he whipped off his shirt, he took the time to pull down his shorts to reveal the top of his underwear.

Sometimes there really are no words.

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