A pillar of certainty has been demolished

Dealing with certain aspects of the hand which life dealt from the pack causes an indescribable amount of angst. So indescribable, in fact, that in terms of comment thereon, the area tends to avoided. In terms of dealing with such circumstances, some years back, what’s now considered a blessing was arrived at when the concept of four walls, per se, of protection – though that hardly seems the right term – appeared to form against the most tricky potholes.

The journey has changed considerably since. However, it’s hoped that in some way the four walls are still in situ. Outside of individuals, it’ll come as no surprise to many that the greatest safety net closest to home revolves around sport and writing, with varying levels of priority depending on how things are.

Taking into account the imprint which sport leaves on the lives of vast swathes of people in this country, stars of sport can often take on roles in the lives of viewers and followers thereof that far outweigh the relevance of anything they may have achieved in the arena with which they are most closely associated with.

Quantifying the enormity of the mark they have left on their area of expertise – and by dint a segment of society far greater than a sporting one – often only realistically becomes possible after they have ventured towards the sunset. Hence the almost mournful overtures emanating at the prospect of jump racing without AP McCoy, hurling shorn of Henry Shefflin or – maybe most pointedly – Liverpool minus the perhaps incalculable influence of Steven Gerrard.

If one was to return to the concept of four walls of security in a sporting context, a pillar of certainty has most recently been demolished as Paul O’Connell confirmed what for many will have been the nightmare scenario in that the recent PRO12 semi final against the Ospreys was most likely his last outing in the red of Munster at Thomond Park.

Gut instinct would be to hope that the (once) flamed haired colossus would in fact exit stage entirely as there would immense difficulty in countenancing the prospect of O’Connell appearing in the silks of anyone else, let alone actually lining up in combat against those whom he has inspirationally led – with and without the armband which denotes as much – for so long.

Irish rugby without O’Connell just wouldn’t be the same. It would undoubtedly be up there in comparison with the other sports having been shorn of their flagship figures. Except in this instance the impact may be even greater. Take the racing case, Paul Carberry and  Ruby Walsh still command understandable attention, the standings of others such as Bryan Cooper and Paul Townend continue to burgeon while Luke Dempsey and Jody McGarvey emerge as the next big forces.

In hurling, even allowing for the hives of talent constantly pollinating in Kilkenny, to lose a bunker of talent so seismic in its quality as Brian Cody has been bereft of may cause a shifting of the sands. Yet evidence suggests there will still be little diminishment in the reality of them being something of an immovable object. Players such as Joey Holden, JJ Farrell and Kevin Kelly have made their pitch for the various plinths vacated by the luminaries. And suspicion is Walter Walsh hasn’t even realised or fulfilled the full breadth of what may lie before him.

Gerrard’s somewhat surprising defection will undoubtedly hurt Liverpool and cause a recalibration. Even at this juncture. That said, the brilliance of Coutinho and the continuing emergence of Jordan Henderson notwithstanding, the ongoing debacle regarding Raheem Sterling suggests that things may get worse at Anfield before they get better. So incentive for the great number 8 to remain was probably minimal.

Which is what, in a way, makes the legendary lock’s impending departure all the more disappointing. Acceptance that his playing days may have been winding down would surely have been palatable enough but it’s a bit surprising and disappointing that moves weren’t at least instigated some attempt to keep Paul on in a coaching capacity, as Leinster have with Leo Cullen.

Against that, his displays this season have demonstrably indicated that the Young Munster man is still more than capable of delivering displays for which there a scarcity of adequate adjectives and you realise that he indisputably owes nobody anything. In fact, we who have had the privilege of observing his usually herculean efforts owe him so much. If, as well placed sources intimated, what’s on offer is too good to turn down, why should he?

But still, it won’t be the same without him. Manic aggression (yeah, remember that?) aside, maybe more than some of the other characters concerned above, O’Connell projected himself into the public consciousness, sporting and otherwise. Forget Superman, we all would’ve worn the pyjamas if we could!

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