It is with heavy hearts this afternoon that the country is coming to terms with Paul O’Connell’s announcement that he's retiring from rugby. For good. Forever.
Injuries have taken their toll on the former Irish captain – and while he was unfortunately unable to cap his career with a World Cup medal last year, there are plenty of abiding and entertaining memories from on and off the field.
1. Not remembering scoring a try on his Ireland debut
Making his debut against Wales in the 2002 Six Nations Championship, the big man scored the first of his eight international tries. Normally such an achievement is filed straight in the memory bank but not for O’Connell.
He later recalled:
“I scored a try but I don't remember it. I went to tackle Craig Quinnell and he knocked me clean unconscious with his elbow. I played on for another 25 minutes, scored a try and then, eventually, with seven minutes left in the first half, I came around. I didn't really know what was going on and so I walked off the pitch.”
Classic Paulie. Sure at least he has the video.
2. Captaining Ireland for the first time in 2004
In the absence of Brian O’Driscoll, a 24-year-old O’Connell was named captain of his country for the first time for the 2004 Six Nations opener against France.
Unfortunately things didn’t go to plan as Ireland went down 35-17 – but there was to be good news that year, as Ireland secured a first Triple Crown since 1985.
3. His first Heineken Cup win
After finishing runners-up in 2000 and 2002, Munster finally conquered Europe by securing their first Heineken Cup victory in 2006.
O’Connell was a crucial member of the victorious side, scoring the opening try in the quarter-final against Perpignan before playing a pivotal role in the dismantling of Leinster in the semi.
2006 also saw Paulie nominated for IRB Player of the Year.
4. THAT 'fear of God' moment...
After years of debate over whether to open the doors of Croke Park to sports other than GAA, our national rugby team made their debut there in 2007, in a highly charged encounter against France.
While we didn’t get the result we wanted that day, by virtue of a cruel late try that still hurts to think about, Paulie’s pre-match team talk will forever echo around the corridors of the great arena.
Who would not run through a brick wall for their country after hearing this?
And we battered the English a few weeks later. Manic aggression.
5. Throwing Donncha O’Callaghan under the bus on the Late Late Show
Not only did Paulie take a swipe at Donncha’s academic abilities, he also revealed to the nation his team-mate’s tendency to visit the sunbeds as winter sets in.
The audience are putty in his hands in this clip. Some man!
6. This Gift Grub sketch from 2008
“Did you put the fear of God into that paintbrush?”
7. And finally, taking the absolute piss out of the backs
If O’Connell’s post-retirement plans don’t involve rugby, he surely has a future in the after-dinner speaking circuit.
Best of luck, Paulie.