Munster play their Guinness Pro12 semi-final against Ospreys tomorrow in Limerick with the final set for Ravenhill a week later. If Munster beat the Welsh region, the decider would bring down the curtain on O’Connell’s 14th season with his native province.
The Ireland captain’s IRFU contract has another 12 months to run but the 35-year-old second row, named last week as the IRUPA Players’ Player of the Year in a campaign which also saw him named RBS 6 Nations Player of the Championship, has indicated he may retire at the end of the World Cup in October.
He has been linked with a move to France with European champions Toulon and Ronan O’Gara’s Racing Metro among his suitors, but sources say neither has been given any encouragement that he is preparing for a career swansong in the Top 14. That route would also mean gaining an early release from a central IRFU contract if he were to play outside Ireland next season.
Sources close to O’Connell insisted last night that after the next two weeks, his only focus is on the World Cup in England, with preparations beginning in July with Ireland national camp. But indications are that he will retire from the game after the World Cup, which gets under way for Joe Schmidt’s men on September 19 and could run all the way to the World Cup final on October 31.
Either way, O’Connell has apparently decided his career with Munster is reaching its conclusion with this weekend’s game in his hometown of Limerick his final bow in the province.
Meanwhile Conor O’Shea is not interested in succeeding Matt O’Connor as Leinster’s head coach, according to sources close to Harlequins’ Director of Rugby.
O’Shea was immediately installed as the favourite to succeed O’Connor after the Australian left Leinster by mutual consent on Thursday morning.
But it is understood that O’Shea has no intention of walking away from Harlequins and intends to honour his contract, which expires next summer.
O’Shea has persuaded his senior players — such as England captain Chris Robshaw, Mike Brown and Joe Marler — to remain faithful to the club and believes he would be letting them down if he broke his contract.
And despite failure to qualify for the European Champions Cup, the 44-year-old is also thought to be excited by Harlequins’ prospects next season, with Jamie Roberts, Adam Jones and Tim Visser all joining the club over the summer.
O’Shea came through the ranks at Leinster, scoring the province’s first ever try in European rugby back in 1995, as well as winning 35 caps at full-back for Ireland in a stellar playing career that was cut short by injury.
But despite his strong personal links to the province it is thought highly unlikely O’Shea would entertain an approach for his services if one were made.