When did Paul begin playing rugby?
Michael O’Connell: “Paul played at U-8 level with Young Munster, but he got big into swimming then at Limerick Swimming Club and gave up rugby. I think he only started playing rugby again when he was 15 at Ardscoil Ris.
“He didn’t play in first year, second year or third year in Ardscoil and I remember Des Harty (teacher and rugby coach) saying to me that he couldn’t get him to play any rugby. He started playing at Ardscoil when he was about 15, probably in fourth year. He went on from there.
“He was very interested in golf too. He was a 4 handicapper. He probably would have gotten down lower eventually if had put time into it. But then he got involved in rugby in school.
“I was glad he went back into team sport. I like golf a lot myself, but I think team sports are better for youngsters. That’s the way I feel.”
When did you realise Paul had the ability to get right to the top?
MO’C: “Paul always had that great competitive edge, even when he was under-age in rugby or when he was swimming or playing golf. He was pretty dedicated in all the sports he was involved in.
“He was probably big for his age at the time. That stood to him too. I always feel if you have the work ethic, it is a great plus to have if you are going seriously in sport.
“Paul would love to have played at number eight at one stage. I think he played there once for Young Munster years and years ago against Co Carlow in the AIL, but he never got enough time playing there.
“I think he would have done very well at number eight because he had good pace and was lively around the pitch. He ended up in the second row.”
Do you get nervous watching Paul play?
MO’C: “I wouldn’t be nervous, but I would be fearful of him getting a bad injury or something like that. Generally, he has been pretty lucky. He has had a few things, but nothing very serious.
“I wouldn’t say we are as nervous as we would have been in the past. Every match you are hoping they come through without injury, but you never know what is around the corner. You look at the Welsh guys there, three of them one after the other forced to miss the World Cup.”
Would Paul call you up before his games?
MO’C: “We very seldom discuss rugby at all. Occasionally, when we are out playing golf, he might say something about this player or that player or about the match.
“By and large, though, we would very seldom talk about the game even if he came out to us for dinner.
“I mean, in fairness, he has the rugby from Monday to Friday or Monday to Saturday and we just tend not to talk about it.”
How do you deal with negative comments you may hear about Paul from the crowd?
MO’C: “I wouldn’t really take any bit of notice of anything someone in the crowd might say.
“I know it can be a bit embarrassing for some people. I have never heard too much negative things said about Paul.
“I have heard them said about great players Munster have had at matches. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it is pretty hurtful, I would say, for a parent if they hear it. It does happen in all sports.
Do you feel extra pressure going into the World Cup with Paul being captain?
MO’C: I think he had a fair bit of responsibility even when he wasn’t captain of the team. He was doing the video analysis for the forwards.
“Having the captaincy is an additional responsibility, but I think he likes it. He knows it is a big responsibility on top of everything else.
“It is a big honour for Paul to be the Irish captain going into a World Cup.”
How do you feel about it being Paul’s last tournament to play in for Ireland?
MO’C: “I wouldn’t say I am glad he is finishing playing with Ireland, but I think you get to a stage at 36 in October, you are not on an upward spiral condition wise.
“I think he made the right decision to retire after this World Cup. I wouldn’t understand the logic of him going on for a 6 Nations again in 2016. It was always his intention to finish after the World Cup anyway.”
How did you deal with the speculation over Paul’s future at the end of last season?
MO’C: “I knew exactly what he was going to do. He has decided he was finishing with Munster this season and finishing with Ireland this season. I think he was going to retire after the World Cup other than the Toulon opportunity came along. He will do that for the two years and that will probably be the end of it.”
How much rugby did you play yourself?
MO’C: “I played mainly with Sundays Well in Cork and then a lot of rugby with Young Munster, but mainly junior. I didn’t play at a very high level.
“I played to enjoy it. I played number eight a good bit with Munsters, but I also played second row. We lost a semi-final in the Munster Junior Cup once season to Bandon.”