On Tuesday 9 February rugby fans all over Ireland woke up to the news that Irish legend Paul O’Connell had retired from the game. In a statement O’Connell said, ‘It is with deep regret that I have decided to retire from professional rugby following medical advice. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all at Rugby Club Toulannais for their understanding and support over the past few months.’
O’Connell is considered one of the giants of Irish rugby, with a playing career that spanned fifteen years. Throughout his illustrious career O’Connell made 108 appearances for the Irish national team and also a whopping 174 appearances for his province, Munster. O’Connell led Ireland to the World Cup last summer, where he picked up an injury during Ireland’s victory over France. This was the beginning of the end for O’Connell as he never played a game after this.
Here at The City, we decided to pay homage to the former Ireland captain by looking at defining moments of his career.
17 August 2001: Munster debut
17 August 2001, O’Connell made his Munster debut in a Celtic League match. Munster won the game 25-22. This was the first game of the competition and Munster subsequently went on to win their pool. After topping their pool, Munster went all the way to the final only to be defeated by Irish rivals, Leinster. Not a bad first competitive competition for O’Connell.
3 February 2002: Ireland debut
O’Connell made his Ireland debut on 3 February 2002 in a Six Nations game against Wales at Lansdowne Road. He marked his debut with a try, but later admitted to not remembering the entire first half due to a head injury: ‘I scored a try but I don’t remember it. I went to tackle Craig Quinell and he knocked me clean unconscious with his elbow.’
25 May 2002: First Heineken Cup final
The Heineken Cup was Europe’s major club rugby competition, and in his second year as a professional player, O’Connell made an appearance in the final. Although this was a great milestone for the young second row, it turned out to be a bad experience as his Munster side were defeated by Leicester Tigers. This was not to be O’Connell’s last experience of Heineken Cup finals as the Munster man went on to win two Heineken Cups.
October/November 2003: First World Cup
O’Connell was part of Ireland’s 2003 World Cup squad. The Limerick champion played in five games, including Ireland’s quarterfinal defeat to France. O’Connell went on to represent Ireland in three more World Cups.
27 March 2004: First Triple Crown
Previous to 2004, Ireland had not won the triple crown in 19 years. O’Connell helped Ireland to break their near-20-year hoodoo, putting in a stellar display against Scotland to ensure Ireland won the silverware.
14 May 2005: O’Connell inspires Munster to the last ever Celtic Cup title
The last ever Celtic Cup took place in 2005, with the final being played at Lansdowne Road. The game was contested by Munster and Llanelli Scarlets, with Munster coming out on top by a scoreline of 27-16.
25 June 2005: First Lions appearance
The Lions is a prestigious team selected from the best Home Nations players, and O’Connell was selected to be part of the Lions 2005 tour of New Zealand. O’Connell made his Lions debut against New Zealand on June 25 2005, but unfortunately for the Irish man the game ended in defeat. He also went on to play in the second and third matches of the tour.
19 March 2006: O’Connell’s second Triple Crown
O’Connell played a pivotal part in Ireland’s Triple Crown victory in 2006, lining out in the second row in a dramatic 24-28 victory over bitter rivals England at Twickenham.
2006: Nominated for International Rugby Board Player of the Year
In 2006, O’Connell’s form earned him worldwide recognition as he was shortlisted for International Rugby Board Player of the Year. Also shortlisted were Dan Carter, Richie McCaw, Chris Latham and Fourie Du Preez. Unfortunately, O’Connell missed out, and the award went to New Zealand’s Richie McCaw.
20 May 2006: Heineken Cup glory
Paul O’Connell won his first Heineken Cup in 2006 as part of the Munster team that defeated Biarritz 23-19 in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Munster had previously lost the final in 2000 and 2002, with O’Connell playing in the 2002 final.
2007: Six Nations
In 2007, Ireland played France in the first ever Rugby match played in Croke Park. O’Connell was the captain on the day. During this Six Nations championship, O’Connell picked up the man of the match award following Ireland’s historic 43-13 victory over England at Croke Park. Ireland ended up finishing in second place as France took home the title.
2007: World Cup
The 2007 World Cup was a disappointment for both Ireland and O’Connell, as following defeats by Argentina and France, Ireland bowed out of the competition. This is generally considered the lowest point of O’Connell’s illustrious career.
July 2007: Munster captaincy
In July 2007 O’Connell replaced Anthony Foley as captain of Munster.
24 May 2008: second Heineken Cup victory
O’Connell captained Munster to Heineken Cup glory on 24 May 2008. This was O’Connell’s second Heineken Cup victory as Munster just edged out Toulouse 16-13. The game took place in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff where only two years previously O’Connell won his first Heineken Cup.
21 March 2009: Six Nations and Grand Slam glory
Ireland won the Six Nations Championship in 2009 and also their first Grand Slam in 61 years by defeating Wales by two points in Cardiff. O’Connell’s performance was central to Ireland’s victory, as his ability to steal the Welsh lineout resulted in Ireland enjoying vast amounts of possession. Yet another happy day for O’Connell at the Millennium Stadium.
21 April 2009: British and Irish Lions captain
Not only did O’Connell captain both Munster and Ireland, he also earned the right to captain the British and Irish Lions during their South African tour. Although the tour was largely considered to be a failure, it was still a great honour for O’Connell to be chosen as the captain of the prestigious team.
28 May 2011: Magners League glory
O’Connell added more silverware to his cabinet by captaining Munster to a 10 point victory over Leinster.
30 December 2011: Ireland captain
30 December 2011, it was announced that O’Connell would captain Ireland in the 2012 Six Nations championship. Unfortunately for Paul, he received a knee injury against France mid-way through the competition which ruled him out of the remainder of the Six Nations.
20 April 2013: yet another Lions tour
This would be O’Connell’s last ever Lions tour, and he captained the side in their first game against Barbarians due to the absence of Sam Warburton. Unfortunately, the Munster legend picked up an injury in the first test against Australia which ruled him out of the rest of the tour.
15 March 2014: Six Nations champion
Despite missing the opening game of the 2014 Six Nations, O’Connell went on to captain Ireland to yet another Six Nations championship. O’Connell played an integral role in Ireland’s two-point victory over France in Paris to give Ireland the title.
21 March 2015: Six Nations champion
Once again, O’Connell captained Ireland during the 2015 Six Nations championship. During this competition, O’Connell earned his 100th Ireland cap during a 23-16 defeat to Wales. Ireland went on to win the championship for the second year in a row, and also O’Connell’s second victory as captain of the side.
2015: World Cup
Prior to the start of the World Cup it was announced that Paul O’Connell had signed for French side Toulon, and would represent them following the World Cup. Once again, O’Connell was Ireland’s captain, but could not prevent his Irish side’s elimination against Argentina in the quarterfinal stage. O’Connell suffered a hamstring injury against France and was subsequently ruled out of the remainder of the competition. It was the last game of rugby the Munster legend would play.
9 February 2016: O’Connell announces his retirement
Following medical advice, Paul O’Connell retired from professional rugby. O’Connell won an impressive 14 titles during his playing career and retires with the reputation of being one of the game’s’ greatest ever players.
by CHARLIE REDMOND
(PHOTO CREDIT: mopictures. Photo Source: Flickr)