Paul O’Connell: Rugby Writers of Ireland Player of the Year

Ireland captain enjoying preparation for his fourth World Cup campaign with Ireland

Ireland captain Paul O’Connell has been named the Rugby Writers of Ireland player of the year for a second time. Photograph: Inpho

Ireland captain Paul O’Connell has been named the Rugby Writers of Ireland player of the year for a second time. Photograph: Inpho

 

As befits a playing and living legend of Irish rugby, Paul O’Connell was named The Guinness Rugby Writers of Ireland Player of the Year at the annual Guinness Rugby Writers of Ireland Awards in the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, on Tuesday night. He thus becomes a two-time winner, having also received the accolade in 2006.

“I’m delighted to receive it, we had a very successful season with Ireland winning the championship, so I suppose I’m capitalising on a lot of other people’s hard work.”

“But it’s a great honour, there a lot of very clever rugby people writing about the game in Ireland and I’ve been at the awards night as Irish captain and as a winner before and it’s a great night. We’re delighted with their support and I’m delighted with the award.”

Allowing for all of that, part of O’Connell would dislike the personal attention that comes with any award and the added fanfare this brings on the eve of his farewell tournament with Ireland - which he is mindful could become an unwelcome distraction.

Recalling the fuss over his 100th cap in the defeat to Wales during last season’s Six Nations, O’Connell admitted: “It is a distraction. You’re under enough pressure as it is when you’re preparing for a game in terms of what you need to learn, what you need to do, where you need to be physically and mentally. The end of my time playing is, I wouldn’t say it’s irrelevant to me, but [thinking about it] isn’t going to help my performance. I’m in a very good place mentally and physically and I don’t want to change anything.”

O’Connell is set to emulate Brian O’Driscoll as the only Irish players to appear in four World Cups when he leads his country into this year’s tournament. The build-up to the World Cup four years ago was his “most enjoyable”, even if results didn’t go well, which made last Saturday’s benchmark win a “brilliant start.”

“It’s my fourth World Cup, so my fourth World Cup preseason and the longer it’s gone on the more you know what works for you and you try and focus on that. From that point of view I’ve really enjoyed it. I haven’t missed a training session or had to step out of a training session to rest my bones or anything. It’s gone well, there’s a good buzz here. There’s a bit of disappointment with Tommy (O’Donnell) picking up an injury at the weekend but that’s part of the game. It’s gone really well so far in terms of our preparation.”

“I feel great. Physically, I feel fantastic. To accumulate pre-seasons back to back is important. I haven’t had an injury in a while and this is my third preseason in a row and I’ve played pretty much 24/25 games across the last three seasons so you’re always accumulating fitness and getting better and stronger. Mentally, I feel great. I’ve been up in camp getting full night’s sleep away from the kids which is great,” he quipped.

Citing how long it took O’Donnell to break into the Munster first team, O’Connell said that the stricken flanker was “a great example to any young player” and as “”the ultimate professional”, he added: “The shape Tommy was in was phenomenal. He’s a special type of athlete. He played incredibly well against Wales but that’s the game and the sport. I spoke to him yesterday [SUNDAY]and he accepts that it’s part and parcel of games. Sometimes you’re unlucky. He’s a tough rehab ahead of him but there’s no doubt he’ll be back.”

O’Connell goes along with the view that this is the most open and competitive World Cup to date. “There are more teams than ever that can win the World Cup, more teams than ever that can beat each other on their day. That’s going to make it a good tournament but it’s going to make it a tough tournament.”

Accordingly, while a world ranking of two was largely irrelevant unless a World Cup draw was imminent, it is reasonable to include Ireland in that group after back-to-back Six Nations titles. “Yeah, I think it’s fair. There’s no doubt that we’re far from favourites going in to it but we know that on our day when we are firing on all cylinders that we can do damage to teams. The problem is that there are probably a lot of teams who feel the same way.”

For the second year running O’Connell and his Irish teammates also received the Dave Guiney Team of the Year after retaining their Six Nations title. Sophie Spence picked up the Women’s Player of the Year after an impressive campaign in the second row for her country. The Old Belvedere and Leinster player played an integral role in the Women’s National side winning the Women’s Six Nations title last season.

Lansdowne FC was voted Club of the Year after an impressive season at all levels culminating in the AIL title as they beat last season’s winners Clontarf by a single point in a pulsating final at the Aviva Stadium.

The Tom Rooney Award was presented to Fred Casey, who is entering his 53rd season in the Cork Con under-age coaching set-up and has been credited with the development of sixteen Ireland Internationals and four British & Irish Lions.

Tom Grace and Dave Hewitt were inducted into the Hall of Fame. Grace, an Irish right-winger and current IRFU Honorary Treasurer, won 25 Ireland caps between 1972 and 1978, including eight as captain, and was on the Lions tour of South Africa in 1974 where he scored 52 points and made 11 appearances. Hewitt was capped 18 times for Ireland, and played in 6 Test matches with the Lions in Australia and New Zealand in 1959, and South Africa in 1962.

2015 GUINNESS RUGBY WRITERS AWARDS

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Paul O’Connell

DAVE GUINEY AWARD (TEAM OF THE YEAR): Ireland

TOM ROONEY AWARD: Fred Casey (Cork Con)

GUINNESS HALL OF FAME: Tom Grace

GUINNESS HALL OF FAME: David Hewitt

CLUB OF THE YEAR: Lansdowne FC

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