As long as the game of rugby is played, there will never be another player quite like Paul O’Connell.
The inspirational former Munster, Lions and Ireland captain will forever be remembered as one the very best the world of rugby has ever had the pleasure to call its own.
The towering lock had his career brutally cut short during last year’s Rugby World Cup when he tore his hamstring clean off the bone during a ruck while playing against France. It was a heartbreaking moment, to see a man who gave so much to our game, have his career taken away in an instant.
The brutal moment has been described by the man himself for the first time in his new book.
“My foot got stuck in the ground. I could feel my hamstring tendon stretch to breaking point and pop. There was a searing pain as it ripped off the bone,”
“I started thinking, this is just a hamstring injury. I haven’t broken anything – I can surely get back up. So I tried, but it was too painful.
“The medics came on. They were talking about bringing on a stretcher. I said, ‘I don’t need a stretcher. Just get me up and help me get off the pitch.’
“I didn’t want my wife Emily, or my parents, to have to see me going off on a stretcher. I thought that Paddy my son would be watching at home and maybe he’d get upset too. They got me back on my feet but I went straight down again.
“I’d ruptured my tendon but it was the sciatic nerve that was causing the worst pain.”
O’Connell realised there and then that his career was over.
“I knew my Ireland career was over. I thought my move to Toulon after the tournament was gone too.
“I thought of Emily and the house we’d picked in Toulon, a really nice place by the sea with a pool. I knew how much she was looking forward to a new experience and I was sad for her.
“I put my arm over my eyes because I didn’t want people to see I was upset.
“Eanna Valvey, the Ireland doctor, was alongside me on the motorized stretcher. He said, ‘you need to put your head up in the air when the camera comes on you so that Emily knows you’re OK.'”
O’Connell however is glad that he got to finish his career with one more glorious moment,
“They moved me to the medical room and after a few minutes Emily arrived. She was crying. The first thing I said to her was, ‘Sorry about Toulon.’
“At full time, I was brought into the changing room in a wheelchair. They lifted me off it and I was just about able to sit down at my place before the players came in. I was glad to be able to share that moment with them because they are moments you fight for and they’re what sport is all about.
“During the tournament, our defence coach, Les Kiss, talked about the Spartans. He said they were told before they went into battle to come back with their shield, or on it.
“And he said: ‘that’s the attitude we need in our defenders. You finish the game with your shield, or on it.
If there was ever a man to live by those words, it was O’Connell.