Paul O’Connell – “I Made The Game A Lot More Important Than It Was”

Life or death.

Former Ireland, Munster and Lions captain Paul O’Connell has opened up about his life as a professional rugby player in a revealing interview with France 24.

O’Connell, who now works as forwards coach for Top 14 side Stade Francais, is regarded as one of the greatest leaders and competitors to have ever graced the game.

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But reflecting on life after retirement he now feels he made the game more important than it really was. He says he made it into “life or death” but now realises there’s so much more to life than rugby.

“I think sometimes, and a lot of players and sportspeople do it, I made the game a lot more important than it was really. I made it into life or death really and now that I am retired and I am out of the game and I have three kids, I see that it wasn’t,” O’Connell told France 24.

“I definitely put too much pressure on myself. On a Friday before big games I would often be…I’d almost be happy to get on a plane and leave the country rather than face the game I was going to play.”

But in the twilight years of his career he says with the help of his coaches and some sports psychologists he began to enjoy rugby a lot more. He says he took a lot of the focus on winning out of his preparation, and instead focused on being the best he could be.

“But towards the end I was very much on top of that – I had some great coaches, sports psychologists that work with us down through the years and I got my preparation better and I began to enjoy it.” O’Connell added

“It probably took a lot of the focus on winning out of my preparation and put a lot of focus on being as good as I could be with what I had. And when that shift in focus happened I started to enjoy the game a lot more. I think I became a better leader and a better team-mate and I got a lot more satisfaction out of the game and I started probably playing better as well.”