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poc's mission Paul O’Connell won’t rely on his aura for success as he remains unproven as a coach


Paul O’Connell says improving Ireland’s lineouts will be down to the players and not what he might think they should be doing. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Paul O’Connell says improving Ireland’s lineouts will be down to the players and not what he might think they should be doing. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Paul O’Connell says improving Ireland’s lineouts will be down to the players and not what he might think they should be doing. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

It was perhaps telling that when Andy Farrell was asked last week, what he wanted from Paul O’Connell as Ireland’s forwards coach, he simply said: “To be himself.”

Wherever O’Connell goes, he carries a unique aura, yet he isn’t arrogant enough to buy into that, nor is he naive enough to think that will automatically translate to success.

O’Connell has taken on a big job with something of a point to prove because for all his success as a player, he remains unproven as a coach.

He joins a squad that is a mixture of players he played with and others who looked up to him when he was winning Heineken Cups and Grand Slams.

Striking the right balance between maintaining those close friendships, and ensuring that his message gets across as boss, will be tricky.

The honeymoon period is under way, but come Sunday evening in Cardiff, O’Connell will have a much better idea of the scale of the task he has on his hands.

A proven leader, the 41-year-old’s voice will carry major weight in the Ireland set-up, but O’Connell is mindful of dispelling any notions about the aura around his presence.

“Look, most of them I know a long time. I don’t think they look at me like that. They probably say nice things in the media because they have to,” O’Connell says.

“I hope they appreciate how much the job means to me, to be involved in an Irish rugby team, to be involved in selecting Irish players.

“Andy picks the team but we’re involved in selecting Irish players to wear an Irish jersey. That is a pretty big responsibility for me.

“I think the players will appreciate that and I just have to be as honest as I can with them. I have to be constructive in my relationships with them and in my feedback with them. That’s what they want.

“They don’t want anything else. Any one of the players, and there are a few that I don’t know particularly well here, any preconceived notions they have of me hopefully won’t last long once they get to know me.”

When O’Connell was working in a similar role with Stade Francais, he grew frustrated when he was often overruled by Heyneke Meyer, who notoriously rules with an iron fist.

That the Limerick man only spent one year in Paris, said more about the South African than it did about him.

Such was the disappointing nature of O’Connell’s time with Stade, he almost decided that coaching wasn’t for him until Farrell called him with a surprise job offer late last year.

“I suppose the opportunity was great,” O’Connell explains. “My family don’t have to move anywhere. We’re back in Limerick, obviously we don’t have to move.

“I’ve young kids and I think there are certain jobs in club coaching which are probably incredible jobs but they are pretty relentless when you’ve a young family and some of the (older) guys that are in those jobs, where a lot of the hard work is done with their kids.

“That was one of the big challenges of Paris for us. It was incredibly enjoyable but you’ve a game on Saturday, you’re gone, you’re upstairs in an office for six or seven hours on Sunday, and then you’re leaving the house on a Monday morning at five o’clock. When you’ve young kids that’s a challenge.

“I saw ROG down in the Crusaders, they probably played about 20 games a year and you’ve got all this opportunity around that then for, I suppose development and learning and to refresh and to be able to be good at your job. I remember Alan Gaffney saying when he came to Munster he didn’t want to die wondering.

“If Andy hadn’t picked up the phone to me I probably would have moved on happily but when he did pick up the phone to me I felt it was something that I would have regretted refusing, even though it meant I had to get the skates under me and start preparing very quickly.”

Even in his first press conference, the energy and enthusiasm with which O’Connell spoke as a player, remained as strong as ever in his new role.

He doesn’t take for granted the chance to work for his country, nor does he intend to come in and start undoing any of the previous good work.

Instead, it will be about steadily implementing his philosophy, which from an Irish lineout point of view, cannot come soon enough.

“You can’t just bring your emotion and your passion for playing for Ireland,” O’Connell adds.

“You have to have a solid foundation beneath that and I think coaches have been very good at coaching that. There’s no ripping up the script, I mean some of our high-profile losses at lineouts have been very, very marginal, and very often it’s a combination of things.

“One of the things I learned in Paris is that they have a very different way of doing things and you have to try and figure out where the players are at, build relationships with the players so you know exactly what they’re thinking at the lineout.

“You can’t transplant your thinking into their thought process. A lot of the best lineouts in the world are player-led. They’re the ones that are in there, they’re the ones that have to stand in the middle of it and feel what’s happening. We have to help them along that journey of gathering and learning from their experiences.”

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Online Editors