And the former Munster and Ireland hooker and today’s Munster forward coach yesterday provided a graphic example of why this was the case.
“Paul is the hardest trainer I have ever come across,” said Flannery. “He asked me during the build-up to the World Cup to fall in with him when he was doing extra on top of his own fitness work at weekends.
“They were murderous sessions and I remember puking in the bin upstairs in UL on a Saturday morning. You’d be dreading the phone call from him on a Thursday asking what are you doing on Saturday.
“But he has always trained very hard. He always pushed himself very hard. He also understands the importance of what to focus on and make it digestible for players around him.”
In his own illustrious playing days, Flannery enjoyed the not inconsiderable advantage of having O’Connell right behind him in thousands of scrummaging sessions at the highest levels of the game.
He appreciated the support greatly but if anything has even greater admiration for him as a captain and leader of men.
“Paulie spoke to us before the Heineken Cup final in 2008 and it was unbelievable,” Jerry recalled. “He said ‘today’s the day we have to go to the well’.
“I know he put a lot of thought into what he’d say to the team but just those moments you’re very receptive because you have nothing else on your mind and that just stuck. What stands out is some of the stuff he would have said when he was captain or said at team meetings or before games.
“You’re looking for a bit of leadership and he gives a team talk and he gives it to you in a really useful way. He’s very good at judging the mood in the camp and hitting the right notes.”
The burning question now is where the next step in O’Connell’s career will take him. Flannery is just one of many who believe he is readymade for a coaching role.
“His knowledge of the game is excellent, he’s very good at judging the mood in a squad and seeing what’s required,” he stated. “It would be a shame if he didn’t go down that road. Players like Paul are effectively like coaches when they play anyway. He would always be a guy at meetings asking questions to make sure everybody else would know exactly what was going on. It was not for his own benefit that he asked those questions.”
While Flannery has sympathy for his friend having to miss out on the final two years of his career in the south of France, he also insists: “It is tough but he’s had an incredible career and he can’t be whinging. It’s disappointing but that’s what the game is and the fact is that he played until 36 and was that good all the way through, “
And Flannery has no doubts as to where Paulie’s many admirable qualities have come from.
“Mick and Shelagh his dad and mum, Justin and Marcus his brothers, they’re all just really good people,” he stressed. “They’re really impressive characters.”
Meanwhile, Munster report no new injury worries ahead of Sunday’s Pro 12 clash with the Ospreys at Musgrave Park.