Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 28 January 2015

O'Connell's inspirational qualities will serve Gatland's Lions so well

There are iconic images in sport that are a photographer's, television producer's or viewer's delight.

They stay in our memory banks.

One such image was Paul O'Connell at the end of Munster's defeat of Harlequins – standing every inch of his 6ft 6ins, his arm extended with index finger pointing skywards.

It was a statement and image as indomitable as his performance in the match.

In a game where players seem to be getting bigger and bigger, POC still seems to be the daddy of them all.

In the same way as Martin Johnson did for Leicester and England, he strikes the most imposing figure and emits the same genuine toughness.

Yet, underlying it all is a genuine love of the game.

His comments after the game were like someone new to rugby, transfixed by the emotion of the occasion, like a young man just starting out.

That's what long term injury can do to you – he played with the vitality, energy and enthusiasm of someone much younger.

Yet, O'Connell knows that the sands of time are running out but rather than wistfully looking over his shoulder he, like Brian O'Driscoll, is fuelled by the hunger for one big last hurrah – another Lions tour.

One massive performance in a big pressure game must surely have inked O'Connell's name into Warren Gatland's squad.

In fact, it was such an all-consuming display of leadership that his name may now come into the reckoning for the Lions captaincy.

The technical expertise O'Connell produced at the lineout was hugely effective, but his great intangible value was the galvanising effect he had on his team mates.

They looked to O'Connell for leadership, he offered it selflessly, and they all came together and responded in kind.

Similar to Saracens, their success is built on the collective. But Munster's version is still something a bit special.

It was the Munster of old – raw unbridled passion.

'Stand Up and Fight' – and they did.

As a result, Munster's love affair with the Heineken Cup continues.

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