Paul O'Connell: Captain. Leader. Legend.

In America, sporting superstars tend to announce their departures in the most grandiose of settings. Cavernous rooms are rented out in major cities. Hundreds of media converge at an appointed hour, all in the hope that they can make the departing legend cry.

And they usually do.

Not here. Not on this side of the pond. Most of our players and athletes fade away like old soldiers. Careers not finished by injury tend to end with a decision made over a quiet cup of tea at home. Now and again, an email drops to tell the rest of us, sometimes not.

The odd few get the send-off their efforts so richly deserve.

Brian O’Driscoll, for instance, brought the curtain down on his international career last year in Paris on a night when Ireland claimed the Six Nations title. He was lucky and he admitted as much at the time.

Paul O’Connell’s Ireland career ended prematurely on the pitch at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium last Sunday. We knew as much at the time, but it was only confirmed yesterday with a brief bulletin from the Irish Rugby Football Union stating, definitively, that his World Cup was over.

Hamstring. Surgery. Months in recovery.

It was just after 10am when the emails and tweets dropped from the union. The statement was bald. Matter of fact. No words of thanks. No list of his achievements nor his importance. Just the fact that he was gone and that Leinster’s Mike McCarthy would take his place in the squad.

The next few hours filled the vacuum with the depth of affection for both the man and the player overflowing onto the airwaves, newspaper websites and on social media. Sports stars, teammates, rivals, politicians, and media luvvies all felt the need to share.

So too thousands and thousands of fans.

#ThanksPaulie wasn’t long trending on Twitter.

“So wrong on many levels,” tweeted O’Driscoll, with whom he soldiered for so many years.

Aaron Kernan, a former Armagh footballer, got it spot on when he added O’Connell’s legacy would be felt for years.

“My sadness is tinged with absolute pride having spent 16 years with one of rugby’s greatest competitors,” said his former Munster and Ireland compadre, Irish Examiner columnist Ronan O’Gara.

Legend. Ambassador. World icon. Gentleman. Hard as nails.

On and on the tributes ran.

O’Connell may not have cried, but a nation certainly wept.


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