Rugby legends have their say on retiring Ireland captain Paul O'Connell
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Rugby legends have their say on retiring Ireland captain Paul O'Connell

After 14 years, 108 caps, three Lions tours, a Grand Slam, four Triple Crowns, three Six Nations Championships, two Heineken Cups and three Celtic Leagues, Paul O'Connell has played his last game for Ireland.

In what was his fourth World Cup, the Ireland rugby captain bowed out in a heartbreaking manner, suffering an agonising hamstring injury during his country's heroic win over France on Sunday.

In some ways, though, it was fitting that O'Connell bowed out on the battlefield, but his troops will have to soldier on without him ahead of their quarter-final tie with Argentina on Sunday.

Although he is well known for his words of wisdom inside the dressing room, it is perhaps the words of others that properly define O'Connell. Here, the greats of the game have their say on the Limerick man who has now officially retired from international rugby.

"He's a guy who does not know how to give up. When he’s done, he delivers again. Not many have the mental capacity that Paul O’Connell has. There are a lot of guys who physically get into good shape, but he’s one of the most mentally tough players I’ve been involved with. I’m not sure myself how he does it.”
JOE SCHMIDT, Ireland coach and former Leinster coach. Winner of two Heineken Cups, Pro12, Amlin Cup, two Six Nations Championships.

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I think Paul O’Connell is a fantastic player, probably the best I have played against in my career. He is also a student of the lineout. You can see he puts in a lot of hours analysing and preparing, getting his whole unit ready for the weekend, so it is always tough going up against him.
VICTOR MATFIELD, Springbok and World Cup winner in 2007.

Paulie is the spiritual leader of the team, that’s what it looks like. He drives them. Joe will bring all the detail but the emotion? A lot of the players would see Paul as the figurehead for that, something that he has done time and time again with Munster and Ireland. He’s been such a big character for the years he’s been doing it with Ireland. He’s been a phenomenon.
LEO CULLEN, current Leinster coach, former Leinster Heineken Cup winning captain and former Irish international.

As a rule of thumb, Ireland and Munster win when he plays and lose when he doesn't. There have been times in changing rooms before games when players have wept when O'Connell has spoken.
PAUL ACKFORD, journalist and former England international who played in the 1991 World Cup final

I always love listening to O'Connell during England week. He's always got something special to say and it always has the desired effect. I knew it was coming - I was thinking 'he's going to say something class' and he did. He never lets you down during an England week.
ANDREW TRIMBLE, Irish international, Ireland's player of the year in 2014

The guy is world-class; such a competitor and an absolute beast.
DAN CARTER New Zealand out-half, World Cup winner in 2011

Whenever Ireland have O'Connell in their pack, they have a chance. He is a true leader and drives them in so many ways.
SERGIO PARISSE, Italian captain, twice winner of Top 14 with Stade Francais

Paul O'Connell is phenomenal. He galvanises his team. His sheer presence is a huge factor. NIGEL DAVIES, Gloucester's head coach

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"Paul is an amazing character . . . a once-in-a-lifetime player. You wouldn't want anyone else guiding your ship."
ROB PENNEY, former Munster coach.

Paul is already an icon of Irish rugby, a great player who is an equally impressive leader. He does make a difference to sides, there is no doubt about that. I had already formed a really good opinion of him as a person from over the years because he was one of those guys who always came across to speak to you and shake your hand whenever he saw you. And then when Rhys (his son, who broke into the Ireland team last year) first went into international camp and told me about Paul's qualities as a guy, my admiration of the person he is, increased further. I can't say I was surprised to hear he is a really decent person but that became clear from the stories Rhys told me. The way he helps newer members of the squad integrate with the established players, the respect he has for people, is amazing. As a player, you really are talking about one of the modern greats. I have the utmost respect for what he has already achieved.
MIKE RUDDOCK, Wales' Grand Slam winning coach in 2005.

O'Connell is simply one of the best sportsmen there has been in Ireland. We have had a lot of great players in a lot of different sports but some of those guys may not have had the same modesty, humility and hunger that he has.

Paul, Brian O'Driscoll and Keith Wood have been instrumental in bringing Ireland forward from a position where we were competitive, to a place where we can genuinely think about becoming champions. Irish teams expect to win big matches now and Paul has done so much to help raise the bar.
HUGO MACNEILL, former Ireland and Lions full-back.

He has earned all the plaudits that befits a man of his stature. For his team-mates, they show an incredible hunger to deliver a standard every time they walk onto a pitch, whether that is in training or in a match. You don't get to achieve that consistency throughout your career - or last such a long career - unless you are a special player. He was man of the match last season at 35. That is the level of the type of player he is. When he retires, the team will miss him. It is his persona, his ethos in training, his ethos on the pitch, his ability to lead. He is a great tourist, a good squad guy.
DENIS HICKIE, second highest try scorer in Irish international history

Having played with and against him over a number of years, he is an exceptional character. People play for him. When he says something, he will do it. He has an enormous impact on younger players. He is a very smart guy, very strategic in his thinking. He's as tough as nails too. He demands a lot of players because he gives so much as well. We are so fortunate to have him as our captain. I don't think any other country, apart from New Zealand who have Richie McCaw, has someone like Paul, someone who has been such a leader.
SHANE JENNINGS, former Irish international and Heineken Cup winner with Leinster

He is a guy who is charge of everything, off the pitch, on the pitch, and whereas before there was a core group of us there who could share that experience. I'd imagine he was carrying a lot of the leadership demands at Munster almost on his own. He's a great player, we know that, a fantastic fella. He can enjoy himself, relax when he is not around but when training starts, he is there in the moment. He leads. People follow. And he was never afraid to people know if they weren't following.
PETER STRINGER, former Ireland and Munster scrum-half, personal friend of O'Connell's