One called him a legend, the other a colossus and both CJ Stander and Anthony Foley admitted how much Munster will miss Paul O’Connell when he plays his last game for the province in Saturday’s Guinness Pro12 final.
The veteran lock played his final home game for Munster at Thomond Park in the 21-18 semi-final win over Ospreys on Saturday that sets up a final game in red for the 35-year-old Ireland captain in Belfast on Saturday against Glasgow Warriors.
O’Connell, who is yet to officially announce his intentions beyond this autumn’s World Cup, took a personal lap of honour around Thomond Park as he said goodbye to the Munster supporters who shared in the iconic forward’s greatest triumphs over 14 seasons in Limerick and former team-mate turned head coach Foley said the second row’s influence on the province was a massive one.
“He’s been a colossus. Any team he was involved with, it’s just the manner in which he goes about it, the standards he sets,” Foley said. “He’s the most challenging person that you’ll come across in your whole life, he’s been a massive influence on everyone who has played with him, coaches that have coached around him and have tried to work with him at times.
So, it’s good. He’s been brilliant for us. Everything’s got to come to an end some time, but we’ll know more when Paul lets us all know more.” Man of the match Stander said O’Connell had addressed the team prior to kick-off.
“He just said ‘play for the now. Enjoy what we have. Just play the game we can play. For each other, for families, and for the red jersey.
“He didn’t have to speak. You could just see it in his eyes. We knew what to do and we knew it was going to be a great game. He told us to enjoy the now, and we did.” Munster’s player of the year Stander admitted the occasion had been emotional.
“To play beside him for last for three years was unbelievable, especially to play his last game here with him. I got emotional before the match just looking at him. Just to play with him He’s a legend in my eyes and everyone else’s eyes. He’s the type of guy you’d follow on the pitch or even after rugby. He’s the type of guy you go to. A real leader, a real man’s man.
“I’ve looked up to him and I’ll always look up to him. He gave his best to the red jersey and I’m just thankful I got to play with him. That’s one of the highest points of my career.
“It’s his last time in Thomond Park. He gave his all to the red jersey. To the Irish jersey. To play alongside a guy like that. An icon. He gave it his all and I’m looking forward to staying friends with him and staying in touch. It’s been an awesome journey to play with him in the red jersey.”
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