PAUL O’Connell’s focus may be on leading Ireland’s rugby team to victory over Scotland in Dublin on Sunday, but the former British and Irish Lions captain has been paying close attention to the progress of Celtic recently.
He admits he is not a big fan of the Glasgow football club but, since his young cousin Eoghan made his debut in Celtic’s 3-1 win over Trabzonspor earlier this month, the famous Ireland lock has started to take a keen interest. The name O’Connell is well known in Gaelic sporting circles, but the big red-haired forward is one of few to have made a name for himself in the international sporting arena. He spoke to The Scotsman at the start of the week about the forthcoming Six Nations and his hopes of leading Ireland back to the top of the tree but, in a break from preparations, he admitted that Scottish football was also now on his radar. “I was delighted, absolutely delighted, when he made his debut in Turkey,” he said. “I didn’t see the game but I have a recording at home because it was on Eurosport. He’s from a GAA [Gaelic Athletic Association] family so he would have grown up playing hurling, Gaelic football and soccer. His dad Damien, my first cousin, played for Cork City and Cobh Ramblers, the team that Nottingham Forest signed Roy Keane from. Eoghan would have grown up watching his dad playing for them so it was hurling, gaelic football and soccer all his life. I don’t know if it’s in the genes, but it’s certainly a sporting family. The good thing about it is Irish kids play so many different sports it probably all helps. I’m delighted to see him develop his career at Celtic.
“It’s going to be a tough journey for him at Celtic, but we’re hoping he makes it through because I’ll be retiring in about two years and I’ll be able to get over to Parkhead every second weekend to watch him play and bring a gang of the family over.
“I’m not a Celtic fan. I’ve never been to a game. I’m actually an Everton supporter but whenever we [Munster] play Glasgow over there Eoghan always comes over to watch our games and I meet up with him. He’s a great lad and it will be nice to go and watch him play.”
As for the support he expects this weekend, there will be a big contingent heading across the country from Limerick and up from Cork and O’Connell remains a legendary figure to many in Irish rugby. He recently signed a new deal that will keep him in Ireland until he retires, turning down a multi-million pound offer from French club Toulon, that only cements his hero status. He acknowledged the Aviva Stadium support on international day is not always as feverish and voluble as Munster’s red army and called on the Ireland support to find their voice a bit earlier than usual on Sunday.
“I think with the provinces the crowd understand the role they can play for the team by being there early, by being vocal, by showing how much they are up for it,” he said.
“In the Aviva, I suppose it’s such a fantastic stadium, it’s so luxurious and so comfortable, people take time getting to their seats. Certainly, we have to give the crowd something to cheer about, but I do think, at this stage, we need the crowd to realise they have a big role to play for the team as well in terms of supporting us.”