Paul O’Connell says he would have regretted not joining Ireland’s backroom staff

Ed Elliot, PA
·3-min read

Ireland great Paul O’Connell feared he would have been left with regrets had he turned down the chance to join Andy Farrell’s management team.

The 41-year-old expressed doubts about pursuing a professional coaching career due to the “relentless” demands of the job after ending a spell with French club Stade Francais in 2019.

He was persuaded to reconsider following a phone call from Ireland head coach Farrell and has been installed as his country’s forwards coach ahead of the forthcoming Guinness Six Nations.

Andy Farrell, pictured, persuaded Paul O'Connell to return to coaching
Andy Farrell persuaded Paul O’Connell to return to coaching (Donall Farmer/PA)

Former lock O’Connell admits a better work-life balance than he enjoyed in Paris also greatly influenced his decision to accept the role.

“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.”

Ireland begin the tournament on Sunday against Wales in Cardiff.

O’Connell, who held coaching positions with the Munster Academy and Ireland Under-20s before his season-long stint in the French capital, won 108 international caps and appeared at four World Cups before hanging up his boots in 2016.

His distinguished playing career also included seven Test match appearances for the British and Irish Lions across three tours, plus two Heineken Cup titles with Munster.

Paul O’Connell, left, previously worked as Ireland Under-20s assistant coach
O’Connell, left, previously worked as Ireland Under-20s assistant coach (Brian Lawless/PA)

Having played alongside the majority of the senior members of Ireland’s current squad, he has no concerns about players being overawed by his status in the Irish game.

“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 hope they appreciate how much the job means to me, to be involved in an Irish rugby team, to be involved in selecting Irish players – Andy picks the team – but being involved in selection to select Irish players to wear an Irish jersey is a pretty big responsibility for me.

“I just have to be as honest as I can with them and be constructive in my relationships with them and constructive in my feedback with them and that’s what they want.

“Any preconceived notions they have of me, hopefully they won’t last long when they get to know me.”

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