Les Kiss: Paul O’Connell probably the greatest I’ve ever worked with

Former Ireland assistant coach Les Kiss last night described Paul O’Connell as an icon whose retirement is “a sad day for rugby.” 

Kiss, now Ulster’s Director of Rugby, spent almost seven years working with O’Connell in the international arena and was fulsome in his praise of the Limerick man.

“Personally, he’s probably the greatest, if not one of the best that I’ve ever worked with,” said Kiss.

“He is just an icon. He’s a man of great substance. When he spoke, he was imposing, he was compelling. When he stood in the dressing room with all the players around him, he was a force of nature, a man that could gel the energy within a group of people to make things happen. He is going to be a great loss to rugby. I know he was very sad at the time when he originally picked up the injury (which led to his retirement) so I really feel for him now that he has had to call quits on his playing career.

“If there was one thing Paulie was, it was certainly not a quitter. If he was able to go there, he would have been. Taking the medial advice he just had to move the way he has gone.”

However he believes O’Connell could soon be back in the rugby spotlight with his native province. “I guess Toulon’s loss may well be Munster’s gain as I can see him being involved there. I know he would have loved to have that experience in France, but, in the end, it wasn’t to be. The superlatives will be flying from all quarters, as they should be.

“It’s the end of the road on the playing pitch for a great man, but you know he will forge something greater in a number of ways. But it is now probably going to be Munster’s gain.

“It would be enough if he just walked into the changing room and gave the jerseys out! He’ll pay you to be the kit man, just to be around the place. I just wish him well in whatever he does. It was a privilege to work with him.”

IRUPA chief executiver Omar Hassanein said O’Connell had played a key role off the field also by helping to develop and improve “player welfare standards” in this country.

“Paulie has been a giant in the game over such a long period and will no doubt go down in Irish Rugby history as one of the all-time greats. Amongst all the strengths he possesses, his most widely regarded attribute is his ability to inspire all those around him through his actions as a leader. Not only has he served as a major contributor to Ireland’s on-field success in recent years, but in his five years as a director of the IRU’s Players’ Association he has been a key figure in the shaping of player welfare standards and also of the game generally. It will be a long time before we see another Paul O’Connell.”

And one of O’Connell’s great on field rivals, Jamie Cudmore, also paid tribute to his former sparring partner. The pair infamously came to blows in Munster’s Heineken Cup victory over Clermont Auvergne back in 2008.

Cudmore tweeted a picture of O’Connell’s Irish jersey and noted: “Have to frame this ! Some great battles over the years @Paul_OConnell all the best for the future !! #Legend”

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