MUNSTER second row Paul O’Connell has admitted that the on-going controversy surrounding his accidental kick to Dave Kearney’s head in the recent
PRO12 clash with Leinster hasn’t been the ideal build-up to this weekend’s big Heineken Cup semi-final clash with Clermont Auvergne in France.
The decision by match citing commissioner not to cite O’Connell following the kick as he attempted to fly-hack the ball away, has come in for a degree of criticism over the past week, including Leinster coach Joe Schmidt.
Speaking at a Munster press conference at Musgrave Park yesterday, O’Connell was adamant that he never thought for an instant that he would make any contact with the Leinster winger’s head.
O’Connell said that he didn’t mean to give the impression that he felt indifferent to Kearney’s injury from the comments he made at last week’s City of Culture Business Breakfast in Limerick.
Paul O’Connell said: “It hasn’t been ideal and it certainly hasn’t been the ideal build-up but all I can say is it was 100% an accident and I never thought for an instant I was going to make a connection with David’s head. I was hoping to poke the ball through, or kick the ball through and get a turnover for the team but having said that, my comments last week, I’d regret them. They didn’t help the situation and probably gave the impression I was a bit, I don’t know, indifferent to David’s injury. That wasn’t the case at all.
“I had spoken to him after the game and during the week and was in contact with him in various other ways but I certainly didn’t help the situation last week.
It’s certainly not ideal that David’s out, missed last week’s game and I just hope he’s back playing soon.
But, yeah, it was a frustrating few weeks and just disappointed it happened.
“I spoke to David (Kearney) and apologised to him straight away. If I thought that was going to happen I would have never gone for the ball. He accepted it and I don’t know him too well, obviously I know his brother (Rob) quite well, played with him for Ireland for a good few years now. I really regretted that it happened.
“Straight away I knew I’d caught him and I checked on him straight away and I just hope he’s back playing soon because I’d hate for him to be missing games because of something I did.”
O’Connell said it was important that he park the matter now so as not to hinder the team’s build-up to Saturday’s Heineken Cup semi-final showdown with Clermont at the Stade de la Mosson, Montpellier (5pm).
“I have to (park the matter), for the team,” O’Connell said.
“We’ve put a lot of work into getting here; well, the lads have put a lot of work into getting us here, I haven’t done a whole lot. But I have to focus on the job now and hopefully we can go over there and get a result.”
Munster head coach, Rob Penney said he was hopeful O’Connell could put the controversy surrounding the Kearney incident behind him to allow him focus on Saturday’s marquee semi-final.
Penney said: “You never know what’s happening in the deep recesses of an individual’s mind, but you would hope that someone of Paulie’s experience would be able to bounce back. He’s a special guy as we all know. There was an incident obviously without intent. Accidents and non-malicious incidents occur in the game every week.
“Everyone is feeling for the Kearney family and David in particular. Hopefully he recovers well and gets back on the footie field as quickly as anything because that’s the important bit, it’s about him.
“I’m sure Paul would tell you that the outcome of that little incident wasn’t what anyone wanted and he’s certainly the first one to regret that.”
Munster will be without the injured duo of Doug Howlett and Donncha O’Callaghan (knee) for the weekend trip to France. Flanker Peter O’Mahony remains a doubt for the game after suffering from a sore foot sustained in the Leinster game. Winger Keith Earls is rated 60/40 to be available for selection to face the competition favourites.