Paul O'Connell is ready for one last shot at World Cup glory
Paul O'Connell lifted yet another award last night by being named Guinness Rugby Writers of Ireland Player of the Year and admitted that the squad have the ambition and skills-set to be contenders for the World Cup.
The Ireland skipper lifted the accolade in Dublin and spoke of a squad brimming with confidence about next month's World Cup kick-off but also one fully aware of what enormous challenges lie ahead while also being equally determined to shut out all the hype.
The 101-times capped second row hopes to bow out from his Ireland career this autumn and head to Toulon off the back of having had a serious tilt at achieving the ultimate prize in what will be his fourth and final tournament.
"There's no doubt that we're far from favourites going in to it but we know that on our day when we are firing on all cylinders that we can do damage to teams," said the 35-year-old.
"The problem is that there are probably a lot of teams who feel the same way and there are more teams than ever that can win the World Cup. That's going to make it a good tournament, but it's going to make it a tough tournament," the Six Nations player of the series said.
Joe Schmidt's side certainly caught the eye with last Saturday's 35-21 thumping of Wales - although Tommy O'Donnell suffered a World Cup-ending injury - at the Millennium Stadium in their first warm-up game which also took them up a place to an unprecedented second in the World Rankings.
It all adds to the hype which is bubbling along nicely ahead of Saturday's outing against Scotland in Dublin but O'Connell, of course, is buying into none of it.
"Unless the pools are being drawn for the World Cup any time soon it's (being the second best team in the world behind the All Blacks) irrelevant for us," he maintained.
"It's one for the fans more than the players. All those things are a distraction."
O'Connell said that last weekend's efforts have sent out a clear signal to the Ireland squad.
"That group (against Wales) has laid down a marker," O'Connell said.
"Results like that raise the bar, they put the onus now on the team that plays on Saturday (against Scotland) to deliver."
And as for his own well-being, the veteran said: "I'm in a very good place mentally and physically and don't want to change anything."