Paul O’Connell is relishing the chance to pass on his wisdom to Ireland’s pack in this year’s Guinness Six Nations having described the opportunity to become his country’s forwards coach as too good to turn down.
The 41-year-old enjoyed a glittering playing career in the Championship, helping the Men in Green to their first Grand Slam for 61 years in 2009 and captaining them to successive crowns in 2014 and 2015.
The second of those saw the lock named Player of the Championship and he is now hoping to inspire Ireland to more silverware from the other side of the touchline.
O’Connell left a similar role at Stade Francais in 2019 after just a season in the French capital and had not planned to return to coaching until an offer from Ireland head coach Andy Farrell proved too tempting to ignore.
“I suppose the opportunity was great. My family don’t have to move anywhere, we’re back in Limerick,” he said.
“I have young kids. I think there are certain jobs in professional coaching or club coaching which are probably incredible jobs but they are pretty relentless when you have a young family. That was one of the big challenges of Paris for us.
“It was incredibly enjoyable but you have a game on Saturday and you’re gone, you’re upstairs in an office for six, seven hours on Sunday and then you’re leaving the house on Monday morning at five o’clock, so when you’ve young kids, that’s a challenge.
“International coaching isn’t quite as many games. If Andy hadn’t picked up the phone to me, I would probably have moved on happily.
“But when he did pick up the phone to me, I felt there was something in that that I would have regretted refusing, even though it meant I had to get the skates on and start preparing very quickly.”
O’Connell has been a key part of his country’s preparations for their opener against Wales in Cardiff on Sunday, with both sides looking to start their 2021 Championship on a high.
The 108-cap stalwart played down any fears that the current crop may feel in awe given his stature in Irish rugby, instead focusing on the positives that come with knowing many of the squad well having played together on the field.
“Most of them I’ve known a long time, I don’t think they look at me like that,” he said. “They probably say nice things in the media because they have to!
“I just have to be as honest as I can with them, be constructive in my relationships with them and constructive in my feedback with them.
“Any preconceived notions they have of me, hopefully they won’t last long when they get to know me.”