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leadership Paul O'Connell reveals he had doubts over whether he could make it as a coach

Irish hero felt nerves about touchline role


HE was one of the greatest players to pull on a green Ireland jersey, yet Paul O'Connell admits he doubted himself when he contemplated a career in coaching.

O'Connell collected 108 caps for Ireland and captained the Lions on their 2009 tour of South Africa, yet this decorated leader admits taking his on-field leadership skills to the touchline did not initially feel like a natural step.

Speaking to the Sunday World at an event to promote a new cookbook entitled 'Home' that will raise money for Bernardo's children's charity, the former Ireland captain admitted he questioned whether he could preach what he practiced for so long in a new leadership role.

"In the final years of my career, I was thinking about coaching and I got a bit nervous by the thought of it," admitted the Munster great, who started working with Andy Farrell's Ireland set-up as forwards coach earlier this year.

"When I finished playing, it was important that I took some time to step away from the game, and it wasn't always a certainty that I'd go down the coaching road.

"It's only when you start to miss the game that you start to get the desire to be part of it again.

"You miss the build-up to games, the nerves when you wake up in the morning of a big match, and, also, I could see where I would be useful to players currently playing the game.


"There's no doubt you are in a better position to help a player when you understand what he is going through and when you have been in his shoes.

"You are often on the brink of exhaustion as a rugby player and decision making can be affected when you are tired, so I feel like that's what I can offer as a coach.

"Who knows where coaching will take me, but I have an open mind about what happens.

"If I can help players improve their game and they can learn from my experience, maybe I have something to offer."

Developing a relationship with winning and losing is a skill O'Connell admits he mastered only at the back end of his rugby career - and he suggests he is not alone in struggling with that aspect of the game.

"Very few good players would admit they don't enjoy the wins enough, but that they remember the losses.

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"Maybe that's what makes them good players," continues the 41-year-old, who was a key figure in Ireland's 2009 Grand Slam-winning side.

"Johnny Sexton is like that. It doesn't matter how much that guy wins or how much he gets paid, he will be back three days after a big success demanding more and urging people to set their standards high.

"Winning doesn't gratify him or take the edge of his desire. That's why he's a great champion.

"I wish I had a better perspective from a lot of things in the game from an early age.

"By the end of my career, I had a better perspective and was a better person to be around in the team because I learned what was important.

"I developed a healthier relationship with winning and losing and that wasn't the case at the start of my career.

"Being your best is the target and once you make peace with that, you enjoy everything more. "

One facet of rugby that was transformed over the course of O'Connell's career was nutrition and he suggests the innovation in that area of sport has its perils.

Roy Keane admitted in a recent interview that he became dangerously fixated with his fitness levels during his time at Manchester United - and O'Connell saw that story repeated in rugby dressing rooms.

"Guys that get too obsessed with diet and nutrition tend to lose track of what they are there for," he added.

"I saw players who were more interested in this side of things than their rugby and that's not healthy.

"You need to operate at around 80 to 85 per cent and not get anxious about where you are at.

"That anxiety takes away energy and if you are in a leadership position, that anxiety can be passed on to your team-mates.

"I look at guys like Cristiano Ronaldo or Roger Federer performing at the highest level for so long, and I'd imagine guys like that are operating at this kind of level. They find the right balance and others can learn from them."

Aldi has partnered with the IRFU to launch a new cookbook in support of Barnardo's. The cookbook called 'Home' for €11.99 features 72 delicious, family-friendly recipes.

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