Paul O'Connell makes his way onto the pitch prior to kick off on his debut against Wales in the Six Nations Championship, Landsdowne Road. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Captain Paul O’Connell admitted his competitive spirit has underpinned a 13-year Test career as he gears up for his 100th Ireland cap against Wales on Saturday.
Cracking picture of Ireland's Paul O'Connell at the Millennium Stadium ahead of tomorrow's clash with Wales pic.twitter.com/Xk2FRVezMf— Sportsfile (@sportsfile) March 13, 2015
Ireland can set a new national record with an 11th consecutive Test victory this weekend, and move within touching distance of a first Grand Slam since 2009.
O’Connell’s Ireland peers have hailed the talisman Munster lock as better now than at any point in his career, despite his advancing years.
3 February 2002; Paul O'Connell celebrates with team-mate Peter Stringer after scoring his try against Wales in the Six Nations Championship at Lansdowne Road. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
The tight-five enforcer will equal Mick Galwey’s record as Ireland’s oldest captain at exactly 35 years and 145 days this weekend.
O’Connell admitted experience has helped him hone his approach, but conceded his sheer will to win has kept him in the sport.
“I’m very competitive, that would be my biggest strength,” said O’Connell.
“I certainly can’t run over people or unlock defences with my footwork, or whatever, but I’m certainly very competitive.
“I enjoy being part of a team and helping drive teams on, trying to make them successful and trying to get the best out of people. I’ve always enjoyed a leadership role whether I’ve been captain or not.
6 August 2003; Paul O'Connell at Ireland rugby squad training in Dubarry Park, Athlone. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
“It’s part of my personality that’s featured in my rugby for most of my career.
“And that probably has helped sustain my career, it’s never been a chore for me.
“I think that happens to some guys maybe towards the end of their careers, but I’ve always enjoyed it and I still enjoy it.
23 February 2005; Paul O'Connell is snowballed by team-mate Frank Sheahan after Ireland rugby squad training. Terenure Rugby Club, Dublin. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE
“I enjoy it more than ever and that’s probably one of the reasons I’m still playing.
“I think there’s certain things about my game that continue to improve.
“Physically I’m probably not where I was, but that’s the challenge I suppose - to try and get to where I was when I was 25 or 26.
“I’m probably not there at the moment; I think there’s still work to do in that regard.
21 March 2009; Paul O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan celebrate with the RBS Six Nations Championship trophy and Triple Crown in the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE
“But there are other parts of it. I think experience certainly counts. I think it’s something you don’t have a lot of respect for when you’re young, but there is a lot to be said for it.”
O’Connell scored a try on his Test debut, against Wales in the 2002 Six Nations.
The seven-cap British and Irish Lions lock partnered Galwey that day, but cannot even remember scoring as he had played on after being knocked out.
13 February 2011; Paul O'Connell celebrates after Tomas O'Leary scored Ireland's second try against France in the Aviva Stadium. Picture: Paul Mohan/SPORTSFILE
O’Connell pledged to park the nostalgia to face Wales though, prepared to look back on his career highlights at a later date.
“It’s obviously a great honour, but it’s obviously something you look back at in time rather than dwelling on it now,” said O’Connell of joining Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara and John Hayes in Ireland’s century club.
5 March 2014; Paul O'Connell, left, and Brian O'Driscoll celebrate with the RBS Six Nations trophy in the Stade De France, Paris. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE
“I think in some ways, your first cap is probably a more nerve-wracking experience I suppose.
“I’ve been through it before, but it is a great honour and it’s a nice little group of Irish guys who have done it before that I’m joining, so I’m very honoured.”