Cowen leads tributes to O'Connell

Cowen leads tributes to O'Connell

Taoiseach Brian Cowen today led the praise for Irish rugby star Paul O’Connell, the new Lions captain.

Mr Cowen said the selection of the Munster forward had been widely welcomed as a good rugby decision.

“Paul can be rightly proud of his achievement as he takes his place among Irish rugby legends who have previously led the British and Irish Lions,” the Taoiseach said.

“His Grand Slam season with Ireland and also his Munster performances to date, have been nothing short of brilliant, and I look forward to seeing what he and his teammates will make of each of the Tests.”

“Paul’s skills, which we have all witnessed, during many matches will be put to good use.

“I wish everyone success for what will be a tough ten-match, three-Test tour.”

British and Irish Lions coach Ian McGeechan’s chose O’Connell as captain ahead of Brian O’Driscoll to lead the squad including the 14 selected Irishmen.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny joined the Taoiseach in paying tribute with both men saying the large Irish contingent - a record 14 players - was a great reflection of the state of the game in Ireland.

“Paul often, quite literally, towers above all others and his talent, drive and leadership abilities make him a superb choice for Lions Captain,” the Mayo TD said.

“It is no exaggeration to say that he is an inspiration to all around him, not only on the pitch but in the stands too.”

“Every one of these players will rightly feel a great deal of pride today and it is a fitting reward for the performances of Ireland’s national and provincial teams.

“I also want to pay tribute to Brian O’Driscoll. He has been outstanding as Irish captain and will play an integral role in the team. We are a small country and to have the two outstanding candidates for Lions captain is a matter of pride for us all.”

Sports Minister Martin Cullen added his congratulations.

“He is a galvanising force in the Irish pack and a forward of immense power and presence and is rightly regarded as one of the best second rows in the world,” Mr Cullen said.

“The Lions will need a leader who will lead from the front when they square up to the world champion Springboks on their own patch and I have no doubt that Paul O’Connell possesses all the qualities needed for the enormous task that lies ahead.”

Mr Cullen added: “It is a fabulous achievement for Ireland to have the largest representation of the four home nations in 36-man touring party and I extend my congratulations to the 14 Irish players on their excellent achievement on being selected and I wish them all the very best in their endeavours.

“I am sure they will do us proud.”

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