Scottish Daily Mail
THE image of the hulking figure of Paul O’Connell addressing the European Ryder Cup team this week is one I find hard to shake from my mind.
Picture the scene. Spaniards Rafael Cabrera-Bello and Sergio Garcia, Belgium’s Thomas Pieters, Sweden’s Henrik Stenson and Germany’s Martin Kaymer would suddenly be confronted by 6ft 6in of menacing Irish muscle with a stare so intimidating it is enough to make even the most hardened second row whimper like a kitten.
If only we could have a penny for their thoughts at that moment as they collectively wondered: ‘Who the hell is this guy?’
Captain Darren Clarke asked his rugby pal to give a motivational speech ahead of the first shot being struck tomorrow morning. His predecessor Paul McGinley had called on the wise words of Sir Alex Ferguson at Gleneagles two years ago and it worked a treat. Even the Arsenal devotees in the team were held spellbound.
Now, few of us will have had the pleasure of witnessing O’Connell at his imposing best as he readied his troops for battle. We don’t know if, with Ireland, he was at his traditional tub-thumping best or, with the British and Irish Lions, his sparkling oratory was enough to inspire his team-mates to new heights without the need for in-your-face motivation.
What we do know is that it worked. O’Connell played for Ireland during some of their finest spells and was part of their 2009 Grand Slam-winning team.
As captain, he led them to back-to-back Six Nations titles in 2014 and 2015.
With the Lions he was part of the team that lost to New Zealand in 2005, captained them to a narrow 2-1 loss to South Africa in 2009 and was part of the 2013 side that went to Australia and won.
At club level he was part of the 2006 Munster side that won the European Cup and had been made captain when they triumphed again two years later.
That is why Clarke recognised O’Connell’s wise words could have such value. Who better to tell his players how to handle that most intimidating of factors — a crowd desperately wanting you to fail and fall down at every turn, when friends are few in number other than the team-mates at your side.
‘Shoulder to shoulder...’ as the song goes and it has become the chosen motto of Clarke’s team. O’Connell would no doubt have preached the importance of that team spirit on every one of the 108 times he answered Ireland’s call.
Cabrera-Bello, Garcia, Pieters, Stenson and Kaymer may not have known anything about him when he first entered the sanctity of Europe’s team room.
But you can be sure that, if they didn’t know anything about what it takes to win when all are tipping you to fail, they do now.
It may prove to be a masterstoke by Clarke, his players together, standing strong. Shoulder to shoulder, in fact.