Monday, April 20, 2009

The countenance divine

A fairly poorly kept secret will be revealed to the world at Heathrow tomorrow lunchtime when British and Irish Lions tour manager Gerald Davies sits down, strokes his perma-tache and announces that Paul O'Connell will lead the 2009 tour side into the South African bear pit.

For the first time since the Battle of Actium, our Irish sense of collective grievance will be silenced. As many as eleven of our countrymen will be selected in Ian McGeechan's 35, with Munster likely to be the best represented club side in the touring party.

Joy, Huzzah! and all that.

Some people say Paul O'Connell is a man of the people here in Limerick city. I don't think so.

Too many men, from Rush Limbaugh to Jacob Zuma, have labelled themselves as men of the people. The term has become another back scratcher for the egos of fools.

Paul O'Connell is too modest, too ordinary and too brilliant to be called such a thing. It is far more suitable to consider him a man for the people.

Do men best follow words or actions? Would we rather admire the self-importance of superstars or the understatement of nobler men? The Irish people have invested a lot of money and affection in the flashy and the indulgent over the past ten years, and look where that has gotten us.

At a time when we are looking inward for the kind of nation we want to be, we are lucky that men like Paul O'Connell are setting such a visible example.

As a person he is imposing, studious, decent and respectful. As a professional he is inspiring, dominant, aggressive and composed. From a rugby perspective, he is the Willie John McBride of our generation. He is an animal within those four white lines, and a gentleman outside them.

Tomorrow will be an intensely proud day for the O'Connell family and all the underage swimming, golfing and rugby coaches who each played their part in moulding this extraordinary talent in his youth. It will also be a proud day for Young Munster RFC, for Munster rugby, and for the supporters who have lent so much affection and respect to Paul O'Connell over these past eight years.

But perhaps more importantly it will allow us all a moment of reflection, a chance to see what can be achieved through diligence, hard work, commitment and character.

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