Sunday 20 October 2019

It was all about the rugby for one of the sport's heroes

Paul O'Connell - The Battle
Paul O'Connell - The Battle

Dean Goodison - Book Review

Modern day rugby players know that fame comes with the gig; some relish the attention, even use it to their benefit, whether that's through the marketing of their image or other means.

It gets to the point where the vast majority of the public know a guy because of the commercials he's been in or the 'model' he's dating, not because of the rugby.

Paul O'Connell was never one of those men. Stoic in nature, at least to those looking in, the big Limerick man was a hero to rugby fans up and down the country.

Provincial colours never diluted the love and adoration that the sport's followers felt for the 108-time Irish international. He was one of them.

In the wake of the recent death of his long-time team-mate, coach and friend Anthony 'Axel' Foley, it certainly makes over-dramatic descriptions of his retirement sound forced and flimsy, but when O'Connell finally hung up the boots it was a loss felt by world rugby, of that there is no doubt.

The big bonus of O'Connell ending his rugby career after a nasty 'complete hamstring avulsion' at the 2015 World Cup is that it gave him, and ghost writer Alan English, a chance to complete a project they started together way back in 2009. They called it 'Paul O'Connell - The Battle'.

The beauty of this book, especially the first 330 pages, is that English does a fantastic job of making the reader believe that O'Connell is talking to them. A key skill of a ghost writer one might say, but it's seldom done as well as English does in this publication.

The complaint, and there's always one, concerns the final section of the book, which amounts to 70 pages of what are, essentially, diary entries of O'Connell's last season. It's a departure from the structure from the rest and it feels like the content suffers a little as a result.

It starts out like most autobiographies do, in the formative years, but it's still very much entrenched in the sport. O'Connell was a promising swimmer and golfer before he settled on rugby but it's interesting that he was self aware enough as a teenage to know that he would never make it in either of those fields.

What's interesting is that O'Connell doesn't go into that much detail on his family life. All family members are mentioned at one point or another during the book but their lives, their personalities, are not explored in any great depth. It feels like this was a caveat for the Munster man when agreeing to the book.

There's some interesting talk about concussions in there, talking in detail about one of the two he suffered in his career. He also has some fantastic insight on the difference between winning and losing at the start of chapter 17. Maybe it's not worth the price of the publication on its own, but why not head down to The Book Centre on Wexford's Main Street and check it out?

Does the general sports fan want to pick up this 400-plus page dossier of O'Connell's career and rip through it cover to cover? Maybe.

It's one for the avid reader, the person who likes his sports stories and doesn't really care for everything that goes on away from the playing fields.

Of course, for the rugby fan this is a must read. It details a decade and a half of Munster rugby, of Ireland internationals, but it does it in such a way that casual fans right through to die-hards can take something from it. A solid, if unspectacular, publication.

Visit The Book Centre on Wexford's Main Street for the very best selection of sports books.

Wexford People