O'Connell sets sights on a return to action in April
Paul O’Connell has confidently outlined a timeframe for recovery from his latest back operation as some time in April when, he and his teammates fervently hope, he will have the carrot of a Heineken Cup quarter-final to aim for. However, the realist in him also accepts the Lions’ captain of four years ago is unlikely to make the cut for the tour to Australia next summer.
Given his powers of recovery, his performance levels in his two games since last February and his experience of touring with the Lions, if anybody could defy logic it is O’Connell, but he admitted appearing in the Six Nations would be an unlikely bonus and hence, realistically, that is going to leave him some way behind those who perform in the Six Nations.
“It’s going to be very difficult. You would imagine the Lions squad is going to be picked on the basis of the Six Nations so it’s going to be very difficult to make it on that trip. I’d love to get back playing in April and see what happens.
“I’d love to get going on some tour during the summer, be it with Ireland or the Lions. When you look at it, I remember the hype around the Lions four years ago; it seems to be even bigger this year but the big hype is around the Six Nations and the players that show form in the Six Nations. It is going to be very tough not playing in that tournament.”
In layman’s terms O’Connell described his injury as a protruding, bulging disc. “What happens when the bulge comes out, it’s like a piece of toothpaste that comes out of an onion and that normally hits the nerve which gives you pain and then it retreats and then the pain goes. But as mine was retreating it was wrapped around the nerve and was pulling the nerve with it. So instead of the nerve retreating and me getting better it was plateauing and staying the same all the time. So I probably was going to need surgery at some stage. So it’s good we actually went in and got it done.”
He takes encouragement from having undergone a similar operation a decade ago and also from Rob Kearney’s impressive return to action last weekend from one.
O’Connell was as aware as anyone about the rumours and the swirl of discussion about his well-being, even if he was touched by all the well wishers.
“I suppose the thing about having a back injury, every one has a story about their own back and their relations’ back and you tend to get the full story and what they did to get it right. I’ve had everything offered to me from magnets to various drinks to every kind of a cure for it. So it’s nice that everyone’s been concerned but sometimes it adds to the frustration of not playing. You’d much rather be playing and competing.”
Asked if he took the magnets, he laughed, “I actually did. I took them off after a day, I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Weary of being quizzed in public, and of the constant swirl or rumours regarding the impending demise of his career, O’Connell faced an unusually large media gathering in Limerick yesterday so as everyone could hear it from the horse’s mouth – so to speak.
“I’d say Rob is tired of it as well” he began, explaining that he had the same bulging disc problem both 10 years ago, when he had an operation, and again after the 2007 World Cup. On that occasion, the problem rectified itself through “managing it conservatively”.