The 34-year-old is very aware that time is running out on a magnificent career and believes that at his age, playing is the best way to maintain his fitness, particularly with a big 12 months coming up.
“I certainly want to go and play” says O’Connell. “I’ve had a frustrating few years in terms of injury and I’ve really enjoyed this season playing games consistently. I’ve had one or two games I missed at the start of the season. I missed one over Christmas and I was sick for the Scottish game, so apart from that I’ve enjoyed playing week-in, week-out.
“I’ve been really well managed by Ireland and by Munster. I feel very good and I’m looking forward to playing.
“I think you just get better and better when you’re playing and if I can just have a good pre-season I think I’ll be in a really good place this year. So I’m eager to go.”
The pre-season will be crucial with his last shot at a World Cup coming up. He has spoken to Ireland’s conditioning guru, Jason Cowman, about what he needs to do to be in peak condition for that.
“Games are better for me. My last [full] pre-season was the pre-season before the World Cup which was 2011 and it’s something you just can’t underestimate getting that really hard conditioning into your body.
“There’s times this season where I have felt really sluggish and I can feel the fact that I haven’t had that pre-season work in me, but putting a season of 25, 26 matches or whatever it will be at the end of the year all going well… if I can get that together with a good pre-season it will put me in a really good position for next year.”
Six weeks on, one week off would be his ideal scenario, but six-day turnarounds between home and away games, plus the added unique hurdle that Munster players must encounter of travelling so much due to their two training centres, makes that impossible.
Not wanting a three-week period of inactivity is another reason he hopes Munster can reach the final of the RaboDirect Pro12 competition.
The main one though, is to end the club season with some tangible reward. It would be nice to go along with the Six Nations championship.
“Certainly when we won it in 2011, it was a brilliant experience. Leinster had just won the Heineken Cup, which probably gave us a bit of an advantage that week in terms of our preparation.
“Winning that final in Thomond Park was a tremendous experience and one I’ll remember for a long time.
“It would be a good consolation if we could win it. It looks like we’ll have an away semi-final against a Glasgow side that beat us very well at home a few weeks ago. It’s going to be a tough competition to win so if we could do it, it would be great.”
Consolation is what it will be of course, after a second consecutive Heineken Cup semi-final loss. It still hurts because while Toulon are champions and overwhelming favourites to make it consecutive wins, O’Connell cannot shake off the feeling that Munster almost won despite not playing well. And not playing well when it counts is galling.
“The one thing you have to be is at your best when the best is required and we weren’t able to produce that. They were obviously an excellent side. And we just didn’t play well. We didn’t get the ball out of the scrum in the first half. When we did we got turned over. I put a ball down, James Coughlan put one down, so too CJ Stander. We just made too many mistakes.
“Even at that, we managed to claw our way back into the game and we could have won it. Unfortunately, we didn’t and that’s really disappointing because you don’t mind losing if you play well.
“We didn’t play well and that was the frustrating thing about it.
“I was bitterly disappointed because I know I won’t get many more chances.”
* Paul O’Connell is an ambassador for Toyota.