Friday 24 November 2017

Where are they now?

Ken O'Connell (Former Munster player): When Munster played the All-Blacks in 1989 in Musgrave Park, young openside flanker Ken O'Connell made a lasting impression on the All Black legend Wayne 'Buck' Shelford.

When the All Blacks were doing the Haka, O'Connell became detached from his team-mates and ended up a few feet away from Shelford; both men glared at each other for several moments and eventually O'Connell was dragged away.

Whatever happened in those moments seemed to inspire the flanker; he played out of his skin and was a constant thorn in Shelford's side, so much so that eventually the All Black captain took him out of the game with an elbow. A few years later, in his autobiography, Shelford recalled the game and said O'Connell was one of the craziest players he ever encountered.

Rugby has always played a massive part in his life and O'Connell earned legendary status in the rugby community for his antics on and off the field.

His father Des played for Sunday's Well and it was there that he first got a taste for the game. He went to school in Presentation Brothers Cork where he was coached by Declan Kidney and won two Junior Cups and a Senior Cup.

Although O'Connell is predominantly associated with being a Munster player, he also had spells in London Irish and Castres and was capped for Ireland twice. But how he got from London Irish to Castres is a story that is etched in rugby history books.

"I was living in a house boat with Malcolm O'Kelly on the Thames," he recalls. "He was breaking onto the Irish team at the time and was a big name. Castres kept calling and trying to get him to move down. They invited him for the weekend for a meeting and told him to bring his agent but at the time Mal didn't have one so I agreed to go and pretend to be one.

"When we went down Mal was offered a big sum but turned it down because he was doing well for Ireland and that was his priority. So I asked Jeremy Davidson would he go, he agreed and so did Castres and that deal was arranged. I also got together a tape of myself playing and gave it to them and they wanted me too so we both went."

O'Connell retired from rugby 11 years ago at 33. For the last five years he's been working for Munster as a coach. Next year he hopes to do his Higher Diploma in Physical Education in the University of Limerick and become a teacher.

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