O'Connell relishing latest comeback

Date published: November 15 2013

Ireland lock Paul O'Connell is the game's comeback kid given the number of times he has fought back from serious injuries.

Ireland lock Paul O'Connell is the game's comeback kid given the number of times he has fought back from serious injuries but but reward for his resilience will come in Dublin on Saturday when he makes his first start for Ireland since March 2012.

The 34-year-old – who will be winning his 87th cap since making his Test debut in 2002 – will also lead out the Irish against the Australians at Lansdowne Road as coach Joe Schmidt has placed his faith in the old warrior staying fit for a while to come.

O'Connell, who in his youth was a highly-promising swimmer, which might have proved less costly on the injury front had he pursued a career in that, has had even by his standards a trying time since that last start for the Irish.

First it was a knee he injured in the Six Nations match with France in Paris in 2012 and then his back forced him to delay his comeback.

However, he eventually proved his fitness to British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland at the end of last season leading to him being selected for the tour of Australia – only to fracture his arm in the first Test.

O'Connell, who also featured on two other Lions tours including captaining the 2009 side, says the lesson he would teach other players faced with serious injuries is to never allow despair to get the better of them.

“You can't get down about being injured,” he told reporters on Thursday.

“There's nothing you can do, it is out of your hands. Enough has already been stripped from you as you are out of the team environment before a game, the camaraderie and the like.

“You lose your sharpness also because you aren't putting your body through the weekly test in matches.

“It's tough but you can't get down about it. Unfortunately I've got pretty used to it over the years,” he said laughing before adding: “You've just got to stay positive.”

O'Connell, who has been as inspirational for his province Munster, winning two Heineken Cups including captaining them to the 2008 title, concedes he has modified his training regime accordingly as the injuries have mounted.

“I would say I am wiser in terms of my preparation,” he said.

“I am better at looking after my body, with what I do in training and what I do in a down week when there is not a match.”

O'Connell, who was a pivotal member of the Ireland side that won the Six Nations Grand Slam in 2009, said that being back in the Ireland set-up had reminded him of what he had been missing.

“It's been great, from the experience of going from room to room to see the players last week to taking the bus to the ground,” said O'Connell, who came on in the second-half of the 40-9 victory over Samoa last Saturday.

“Sadly these moments are going to be less and less as I am old now but I cherish it more and I enjoy it more.”

O'Connell, who married long-term girlfriend Emily in Auch, France, this July with their son Paddy acting as a pageboy, said being offered the captaincy was special, although it almost got hijacked by another injury.

“I had a calf injury coming into this series of Tests but luckily it cleared up,” said O'Connell, who if he stays fit could still make a fourth World Cup in 2015.

“I was delighted when Joe asked me to be captain. It's an honour and I enjoy it. Other sides of being captain are tough, for instance I agree with Jamie (Heaslip, who is now vice-captain having been captain for the last Six Nations under former coach Declan Kidney) that you wear the losses harder.

“I have captained Ireland several times, the first occasion when I was 24 and I also stepped in when Brian (O'Driscoll) was injured.

“Captaining a young side can be a lonely place but with this squad it isn't because there are experienced leaders all over the team and so you don't feel so alone.

“I'm familiar with being captain and I hope we can be successful.”