Tuesday 21 January 2020

'The story is, you nearly killed him' - Paul O'Connell recalls the 'worst moment of his career'

Paul O'Connell in 2007
Paul O'Connell in 2007
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Ireland legend Paul O'Connell released his autobiography this week and 'The Battle' is certainly unearthing some very interesting anecdotes.

One such story revolved around the summer of 2007 as Eddie O'Sullivan prepared his side, who would have won the Grand Slam but for Vincent Clerc, for the Rugby World Cup in South Africa.

Much has been made of the physical conditioning of the Irish and how it contributed to the team's failure to make it our of their group, losing to France and Argentina.

The level of preparation has been the subject of a lot of talk since but this story of an altercation between O'Connell and Ulster's Ryan Caldwell sums it up pretty well...

"In training, I continued getting into scraps, until the day in 2007 when I realised that a lot of us had become so powerful through lifting weights that a single punch could hurt someone badly.

"It happened at an Ireland camp before the World Cup, when Eddie was close to naming his squad for France. We were training at the University of Limerick and Ryan Caldwell, the Ulster second-row, was trying to make an impression.

"He'd been spoiling rucks all week, making a nuisance of himself. That was all fair enough - he was like me at the same age - but when he put me on the floor with a tackle in a non-contact session my went and I got up and threw a punch.

"I didn't think I hit him too hard, but my right hand struck the side of his face and he went down, unconscious. What I didn't know then was that one of his teeth had burst his cheek and he was swallowing a lot of blood.

"The rest of us had to move away when the team doctor, Gary O'Driscoll, rushed over to him.

"I kept looking over, from a distance, and the situation just kept getting worse and worse. Gary was trying to resuscitate him and he had blood all over his mouth. He was roaring for an ambulance. Then he started cutting the jersey off Ryan.

"I was shaking by the time the ambulance came to take him away. I was starting to fear the worst, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one thinking that.

"The ambulance drove off and Eddie came across the pitch towards us.

"'What's the story?', I asked him.

"The story is, you nearly killed him'."

O'Connell later referred to the incident as the 'worst moment of his career.

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