Paul O’Connell will be forever known as one of the most passionate and driven men to ever grace the Munster and Ireland jerseys.
O’Connell soldiered for his province and country throughout a 15-year career and it took a serious hamstring injury to finally put a stop to the Limerick giant in 2015.
Given his reputation as a leader, it was no surprise that the 40-year-old was chosen to captain Munster, Ireland and the British & Irish Lions. He was known as a man who emptied the tank, led by example, and whose words carried serious weight.
On the field, he was an imposing character and that reputation quickly spread off-field with numerous stories spreading that he was not a man to be crossed while in rugby mode.
However, as he wrote in his 2016 autobiography ‘The Battle’, some stories were exaggerated leading people to believe that they could not approach him at any stage.
“There was a caricature of me: That psycho guy, over competitive bordering on insane, every hour of the day. And there were stories to back up the impression that some people had – or maybe still have – about my personality: like nobody will play me at Monopoly because I ruin everything by being too desperate to win.
“Maybe, like a lot of things, it was partly true. But I heard it so often that sometimes when I just wanted to knock a bit of craic out of some game, I started questioning myself. ‘Am I losing my competitive instinct?’ ‘Am I not being myself here?'”
That aspect of his personality came to the fore during an RTÉ documentary ‘Reaching For Glory’ which showed behind the scenes footage of the Irish rugby team throughout their 2007 journey.
In it, O’Connell was captured in a now-iconic pre-match speech trying to rile up his teammates prior to their battle with France.
“I know a lot of people’s impressions of my character came from what they saw of me in the dressing room at Croke Park in 2007, just before we played France in the Six Nations – the clip from the documentary where I was going on about ‘manic aggression’, about putting ‘the fear of God’ into someone.”
Paul O’Connell was captain that day in Croke Park in front of a crowd of over 81,000 people. Eddie O’Sullivan’s men had won their first-round game against Wales but O’Connell knew that France would be the ultimate test if they were going to win the Grand Slam.
That was the type of urgency he was trying to instill in his players on that fateful day and his speech, he explains, was never meant for public consumption.
“It was a good documentary and people loved it but it bugged me that I was never asked about the use of that clip because it’s not something I would have agreed to.
“It’s just too intimate for people to be sitting down with a cup of team and a biscuit watching it. It shouldn’t be for that kind of consumption.”
While his personality traits may be exaggerated, the Munster legend doesn’t deny that he is a driven person. However, rugby was his career and he argues that he gave the same level of commitment to his profession as any other person.
“That was me for half an hour before a rugby match, ten years ago. It’s very different to how I was – and how we all were – in my later years with Ireland, but it’s probably what some people thought I was like all the time.
“I am quite driven, but it doesn’t apply to everything in my life. I’m sure that my personality is just the same as a guy working nine to five in a stationary office somewhere, who feels passionate about his job and wants his organisation to be the best.”