AFTER their son was named as captain of the British and Irish Lions, Michael and Sheila O’Connell quickly kick-started their celebrations — with a quiet cup of tea.
After the call from Paul with the big news, the proud parents slipped into Coffee 4 Two on Catherine Street in Limerick city, where owner, Brian Hegarty, from Douglas in Cork, settled them down with their usual pot of tea.
Michael, who is from Ballinlough in Cork and played rugby with Sunday’s Well, said: “We’ll try the champagne later on, but it’s a bit early in the day to start popping corks now.”
Sheila, who comes from Croom, said they plan to have a quiet family celebration tonight.
“We are thrilled, delighted and very proud of Paul and all the other Munster players who have made it onto the Lions side. The first thing we have to do this afternoon is to check out the travel agents and see what we can get. We won’t go for the entire tour, but hope to be there for most of the tests.”
Michael thought Paul would make it as a swimmer or a golfer rather than rugby.
He recalled that his son swam for Munster as a young teenager and had got his golf handicap down to four after playing the game for just 18 months at Limerick Golf Club.
“He had been playing rugby under eights and tens at Young Munster and then got into swimming and golf. But he got back into rugby at Ardscoil Rís and went on to play schoolboys for Munster.
“He then got his first international cap when he played on the Ireland schoolboys team against Scotland at Thomond Park.
“Now that he has been named captain of the Lions is a great honour for himself, the family, his club Young Munster and his city of Limerick,” said Michael.
Paul’s girlfriend, Emily O’Leary, was one of the first to get a phone call from the new Lions captain.
Emily works for the Limerick architectural firm of Murray O’Laoire.
Her uncle, Ken Lyons, is a well-known Munster rugby figure and one of the development committee who drove the e40 million Thomond Park project.
Mayor of Limerick John Gilligan said: “Limerick has always had a tradition of being the rugby capital of Ireland but now we can stake a claim to being the rugby capital of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. We now have Paul O’Connell leading the Lions with Alan Quinlan, Keith Earls, Jerry Flannery and David Wallace all named on the touring party.”
The Shannon club on the north side of the city was celebrating the selection of Alan Quinlan and Jerry Flannery.
Former Shannon great, Gerry McLoughlin, who toured South Africa with the Lions, said it was a tremendous tribute to the Shannon club that they will be represented on the Lions tour.
Jerry Flannery, who was named as one of the Irish contingent, had to spend some of last night on the other side of the bar counter in his pub in Catherine Street.
“I had hoped to take the night off but so many people came in to congratulate me and wish me well, I had to step in behind the counter to help out,” he said.
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