Prendergast backs Paulie to battle back

Rail and bus travellers passing through Colbert Station are left in no doubt as the most treasured person in this part of Limerick City.

High on the sidewall overlooking the terminus is a massive sign proclaiming “The Pride of the Yellow Road” and underneath is a picture of a strapping young rugby player sporting a sweatband underneath a shock of red hair and a distinctive black and amber jersey.

Even though it is the best part of 10 years since the photo was taken and the subject is a lot less well off these days in the hirsute stakes, there was no need for any further identification.

It is, of course, Paul O’Connell, the celebrated Young Munster, Munster, Ireland and Lions rugby player and a truly messianic figure in this neck of the woods.

The Yellow Road is in the heart of Young Munster territory. Move around to the front of the pub showing off O’Connell’s fame and achievements and you are attracted to the three crowns over the entrance. It is, of course, the club crest. The premises is owned by one of their most fervent supporters, Austin Quinlivan.

Like every Young Munster man, he noted Paul’s massive potential from his earliest days and while it has all been realised over the years, if anything it is the Lions captain’s down to earth manner that has endeared him to just about everyone. The point is not lost on O’Connell’s close friend and current Young Munster head coach Mike Prendergast.

“He was a great clubman from his earliest days,” he recalls. “We go back to winning the Munster Junior Cup back in 1999 when we beat Kilfeacle in a tough match at Thomond Park.

“His brother Justin was also in that side. Paul was only just out of Ard scoil Rís at the time but was quickly into the first team and on to Munster and as early as 2002 he was playing his first match for Ireland and scoring a try against Wales at Lansdowne Road.

“No matter what, Paul never forgot where he came from. He is one of the most down to earth fellows you could meet.

“I have only to pick up a phone and ask for a bit of advice and it’s as good as done. We bounce things off each other, well me on him more than the other way around in truth, but he is always very helpful. He helps at training sessions when he can and frequently comes into the dressing room before matches and gives everyone a huge lift — and not just the younger guys.

All the earliest bulletins emanating from the Mater Hospital indicate that Monday’s back surgery was highly successful and O’Connell could well be back in action in April and hopefully with Munster’s Heineken Cup prospects still alive.

“I spoke to Paul on his way down from Dublin on Tuesday and he was in great form,” reported Prendergast. “He was very positive and more importantly as he said himself, so, too, were the doctors. So now it’s a case of taking it easy for a few weeks and then going into rehab. If any man can make a full recovery, that man is Paul O’Connell.”

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