A SMILING Paul O’Connell, cutting an imposing figure despite the crutches and university robes, admitted he would be envious of his former team-mates when watching his country and province in future, but was firm in declaring that regret would not among his feelings.
“I will definitely look at all the Munster and Irish games with envy of the players still playing there, but it won’t be with regret,” he said.
“I did as much as I could when I played. I enjoyed myself incredibly, played with some great players and great coaches, but when the time comes to move on, you have to move on and you have got to make the most of where you are going. I am really looking forward to going to Toulon and playing with some terrific players.
“It will hurt but I have made the decision – once you make a decision you have got to get busy at making it the right one. That is what I have done, I have elected to go away, do something different, move to France with Emily and the kids and I am just looking forward to all the experiences and all the knowledge that that is going to bring me.”
The Limerickman, 36, was speaking at some length at a press conference before receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Limerick last week.
Paul, who faces an extended period of rehabilitation owing to the serious injury that ended his participation in the Rugby World Cup, will depart in December with wife Emily, son Paddy and daughter Lola.
All were at his side as he received the Honorary Doctor of Science parchment, witnessed also by Irish manager Joe Schmidt, Munster players past and present, including Doug Howlett and David Wallace, UL luminaries and Mayor of Limerick, Cllr Liam Galvin, just some of an estimated 1,000 invitees.
Paul, who has been a director of the UL Foundation since 2011 and was a student at UL, completing three of four years of a computer engineering degree before professional rugby came calling in 2001, spoke with obvious affection about his lifelong association with the campus, which began with swimming training at the age of “four or five”.
“It played a massive role,” he said of the impact UL has had on his life. “I think I have used absolutely every facility on the campus in a sporting sense before I ever came here as a student.
“That is just the way it is for people who grow up in Limerick, UL ends up being every Limerick boy’s playground in a way, and that is the biggest compliment I can pay to the university.”
The cerebral rugby legend made it clear that it is the experience of living and working in France that has attracted him and his family first and foremost, uprooting their existence from the quiet suburb where they live in Annacotty, just outside the city.
“Well, I went to Alliance Francaise when I was nine, so I have a small bit of French,” he smiled. “As how we will adapt to it, I don’t know – but that is probably what we are looking forward to. Plenty of people my age have been lucky enough to travel a lot more than I have, have lived away a lot more than I have. And, like I would love do, they have come back to Limerick to settle down and raise a family.
“I suppose one of the disadvantages of rugby is that you don’t get to do the J1 in America or go to Australia for a year, but one of the big things about playing for Munster is that you are lucky enough to be a professional and live in the city or county you grew up in.
“Anything I do after this, I think I will be better for it, and the challenge of adapting and putting Paddy into a French school and trying to figure all that out, is something Emily and I are looking forward to. It won’t be easy, but we are looking forward to it.”