For once, Paul O’Connell will not be able to lead by example, but his words to Europe’s Ryder Cup team at Hazeltine National last night were set to be, in the words of captain Darren Clarke, “seriously inspirational”.
Clarke brought the former Munster, Ireland and British & Irish Lions rugby captain to Minneapolis-St Paul last night to deliver a motivational team talk to the 12 members of his team as they prepare to defend Europe’s honour and prevent the United States from winning the Ryder Cup for the first time since 2008.
Whether Rory McIlroy and his team-mates will strike the fear of God into the Americans between Friday and Sunday remains to be seen, but captain Clarke had spotted the potential in bringing in renowned dressing-room motivator O’Connell to stir his players ahead of this most difficult of away games.
Clarke laid some groundwork for O’Connell’s oratory, having borrowed a key theme for the European mindset this week from the words of Ireland’s Call, the message being “Shoulder To Shoulder”. It certainly hit home, with the team given rookie Andy Sullivan’s reaction to a picture on the European team-room wall, most likely of the Giant’s Causeway, though the Englishman could not identify the location.
“There’s one absolutely fantastic image. I think it’s a picture of a place where Darren lives near and it’s rocks, basically, shoulder to shoulder,” said Sullivan. “That’s his motto for the week. It’s got a picture lined up of all the players, just shoulder to shoulder. It’s quite motivating when you look at yourself on there and see the guys you’re standing up next to. I think that’s probably one of the best images there.”
O’Connell was sent in to reinforce that message last night, as Clarke explained beforehand.
“Well, part of my whole thought process for this week is shoulder to shoulder, one team, one unit, and, as you know, shoulder to shoulder with the rugby background that I have, as well, it resonated with me. It was something that I pursued through my captaincy.
“There’s no finer an example of shoulder to shoulder than Paul O’Connell. He has legendary status, both at home and in terms of leading the Lions, who obviously always play away from home. So, with us being away from home, he was my option and choice to come and address the team. I’m very excited to hear what he has to say and the way that he’s going to put his thoughts across.”
Despite speaking several times with O’Connell, whose playing career was cut short by a serious hamstring injury while leading Ireland against France at last October’s Rugby World Cup, Clarke revealed yesterday he had still not met the Limerick man.
“I haven’t actually met Paul yet. I’ve spoken to him, but I haven’t actually met him yet. I’ve gone to watch him many times playing for Ireland, but I’m going to meet him now in probably 15, 20 minutes, but we have spoken at length about what my whole thought process was, about my thinking for the team, and a lot of my imagery is connected with shoulder to shoulder, and Paul is aware of that. He’s seen that. He’s more than keen to get there and address the guys tonight.
“From everybody that I’ve spoken to who have heard Paul address teams, he is seriously inspirational, so I feel very fortunate and privileged that he’s there to join us.”
While O’Connell may be a rugby icon, Clarke was asked whether the Irish sporting hero resonated with the five members of his team from Spain, Belgium, Germany, and Sweden. Had they even heard of Paul O’Connell?
“Yes, they have, because they have been made aware of a few things,” Clarke said with a laugh. “I’m not that foolish, but thank you for asking.”
It is unlikely O’Connell, an 11 handicapper, was sharing any golfing tips with his audience last night, however. Earlier in the day, he took part in a nine-hole scramble celebrity match at the course where Europe and the US will battle it out for three days. He partnered One Direction’s Irish singer Niall Horan against US comedian Bill Murray and rock band leader Huey Lewis.
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