With the Rugby World Cup on the horizon, and Joe Schmidt having announced his 31-man squad, fans across Ireland will be busy debating as to which star in green will stand out.
And if any of Schmidt’s troops need any inspiration, then all they need to do is look back through history at some of those who have answered Ireland’s call in the past.
We will profile just three of a very long list of players who have done exactly that, with the latest actually still answering Ireland’s call to this very day as Dave Marsh profiles current captain Paul O’Connell. And while you’re with us, make sure you are kitted out for the Rugby World Cup by checking out our online store by clicking here.
Since Paul O’Connell made his Test debut for Ireland in 2002, the Limerick-born lock has gone on to write his name into Irish rugby history with some barnstorming performances and tremendous leadership attributes – and he is not done yet.
Irish fans know that they can rely on O’Connell to deliver on the Test match stage time after time – he consistently performs to a world class level and has always delivered for his country when it has mattered most.
O’Connell’s Irish career started back in 1997 when he played for Irish Schools and he later won five caps for Ireland U21’s. His talent was clear for all to see so it was not long before he was deemed ready to take the step up to the senior side.
It was in 2002 that O’Connell made his first team debut against Wales at Lansdowne Road. Ireland were run-away victors on the day with O’Connell himself crossing the whitewash to top off his Test debut with a try.
Quickly emerging as a leader on and off the field, O’Connell would captain Ireland in the absence of Brian O’Driscoll, and his leadership qualities earned him comparisons with English rugby legend Martin Johnson.
O’Connell’s performances quickly earned him a regular starting spot for Ireland as he was developing into one of Europe’s finest lock forwards. He played a vital role in the 2004, 2006 and 2007 Triple Crown success stories, and was selected to represent the 2005 British & Irish Lions on their tour to New Zealand.
More success was on the horizon for Ireland as they went on to secure a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2009 with O’Connell featuring for Declan Kidney’s side in all five games. They then ended 2009 unbeaten with more victories over Fiji and South Africa, and a draw with Australia.
O’Connell was also granted one of rugby union’s top honours when he was asked to captain the British & Irish Lions on their 2009 tour of South Africa, although he was unable to lead them to a series victory.
Six Nations success came again for Ireland in 2014 and 2015 as new coach Joe Schmidt guided O’Connell and Ireland to two consecutive Championship titles. O’Connell was again coming up with the goods when it mattered most and remained one of Ireland’s most influential players.
2015 saw Paul O’Connell reach the incredible landmark of 100 Test caps when he ran out at the Millennium Stadium for a Six Nations showdown with Wales. The day ended in defeat for Ireland, but O’Connell was again colossal in the second row in a hard fought battle up front.
With a total of 103 Test caps under his belt, O’Connell is now fourth on Ireland’s most capped list – and Irish fans will again be able to rely on their long serving captain to lead by example at this year’s Rugby World Cup.