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O'Connell got the smoke signals

Paul O'Connell geared up for his Test debut battling room-mate Peter Clohessy's crafty cigarettes: 13 years on Ireland's talisman still jokes about the passive smoke, but is deadly serious about the subliminal learning.

Munster enforcer Clohessy greeted each day by lighting up in bed as Ireland wound up to face Wales in Dublin in the 2002 Six Nations.

The 54-cap prop ring-led Ireland's card school while easing through training, leaving the young O'Connell bemused all the while.

This weekend in Cardiff O'Connell assumes the elder statesman mantle, admitting Jordi Murphy marvelled at his first sight of the Millennium Stadium in Friday's captain's run training session.

The British and Irish Lions totem will win his 100th Ireland cap as Joe Schmidt's side chase a record 11th consecutive Test victory and bid to inch towards Grand Slam glory when facing Wales in RBS 6 Nations action.

O'Connell scored on that 2002 debut in Ireland's 54-10 victory over Wales, but cannot remember the try thanks to his only career concussion: in acknowledging rugby's changing landscape the 35-year-old admitted only now can he fully appreciate the debt he owes his Test mentors.

"I was woken by the smell of cigarette smoke in my nostrils every morning because the Claw (Clohessy) used to have a cigarette the moment he woke up," said O'Connell.

"Obviously it's changed a lot since then. How I prepare now? I probably try to copy the best guys that are out there, I probably copied Donncha O'Callaghan for a long time; he's an incredibly professional player.

"Now we're in Irish camp I take a lot of advice from (strength and conditioning coach) Jason Cowman. Johnny Sexton is obviously a great guy to copy and follow.

"It's funny, there are a lot more guys to copy now then there were when I made by first cap but I know my body, I know myself quite well.

"I know how to look after myself and how to prepare myself to be right on the day and not to overdo it in midweek, I think that's the big thing I've learned.

"I was well aware from Peter (Clohessy) that this was not the way forward. You know I didn't need a moment in my career to realise this was not the future.

"But I'd come up with Donners (Donncha o'Callaghan) and he was probably the biggest influence in terms of looking after my body and how to prepare."

O'Connell will equal Mick Galwey's record as Ireland's oldest Test captain of all time at exactly 35 years and 145 days in Saturday's pivotal Cardiff clash.

The seven-cap British Lion has been hailed as enjoying the form of his life by half his team-mates in the build-up to his century milestone.

Galwey captained Ireland on O'Connell's debut, so as the Limerick native's career turns full circle he took time to look back on his humble origins, poke some fun - but also highlight his depth of gratitude to some experienced grafters who taught him his trade.

"Peter just saw every rugby match as a battle and the physicality of the game all that mattered," said O'Connell of Clohessy.

"It was all that mattered to Peter. You could see it in the way he trained during the week. He trained at everything at a very low intensity but it was because of where he felt he had to go at the weekend that he prepared like that.

"I loved playing with him at Young Munster, then Munster too and getting a few caps in with him for Ireland.

"Growing up he was the guy in our house that we were all watching for because he was Young Munster.

"Mick Galwey, it was the same, I only got a short period of time with him.

"I thought he was a fantastic leader and one of the big things that came across from Mick was how much he loved all the lads he was playing with.

"You know, the likes of Peter Stringer, Ronan O'Gara, Alan Quinlan, David Wallace, he genuinely wanted them to be successful as much as he wanted to be successful himself.

"I know I slag Peter and Mick but a lot of the stuff I learned before I ever realised I was learning anything was from them."


From Belfast Telegraph