Centurion O’Connell remains inspirational

BY any standard, even the stellar standards set by AP McCoy, who is to retire from racing this year, having been champion jockey for 19 seasons, winning 100 caps in international rugby is a very considerable achievement.

It is one realised only by exceptional athletes, competitors, and individuals. To do so in a position as physically and mentally demanding as Paul O’Connell’s — lock — adds an unquestionable authority to the milestone. Only five second-rows have reached this level in rugby history.

Yet that is precisely what O’Connell will do in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium this afternoon when he will once again lead Ireland against the Welsh. That he will do so as Ireland begins to dare to hope that another record might be broken this season is entirely appropriate. O’Connell’s contribution as a leader may eclipse even his contribution as a player. He has successfully led Munster, Ireland, and the Lions. He has shown that indefinable charisma — natural leadership combined with obvious courage and integrity — in an exemplary and inspiring way. Very few individuals are blessed with such talents; very few societies are lucky enough to have them represent them.

Paul O’Connell is a no-frills-attached and successful Irish leader and like all great sportsmen approaching the end of their career he may dream of just one or two more great days. Who would begrudge him or deny him? Surely not the Welsh?

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