‘Roy Keane is a hero and I admire people in business’

Regarded by many as Ireland’s most legendary sportsman, Paul O’Connell spoke to Stephen Conmy at the Winning in Sport, Winning in Business event by Bank of Ireland. Here are the big man’s views on building a team, the business people he admires and how to keep going when times get hard.

Most working people have a career; they leave school and go to work, and if they work hard and follow the rules, they get promoted a few times. Others start their own business. Others go into farming. Paul O’Connell has spent his time, since leaving college, playing rugby. 175 times for Munster and 108 times for his country. He also captained the Lions. His international career highlight came with 2009’s Six Nations Grand Slam. He has two Six Nation gold medals, two Heineken Cup medals and four Triple Crown medals as well as a Lions tour series winner’s medal from 2013. He was also named Irish Sports Person of the Year 2015. 

“Believe it or not, I once worked on the door as a bouncer”

Does he think there are similarities between business success and sporting success?

Of course, and I think it is all down to company culture and team culture. Whatever about your tactics, or your business strategy, you have to have people with the right values and the correct behaviour to lead you to success. This is especially so for people at the top. The people who lead a business, or lead a team, have to have the right values, and they have to prove themselves as leaders by behaving in a way that gains respect from their team members. If you, as a leader, have the right values and you behave well, it trickles down to the team. The same is true in a business environment.

Paul O'Connell

Would he ever consider a move into business?

Yes, I would consider a move into business at some point. I’m in the middle of trying to figure out what to do, and that’s why I’m going to France for a period. The move to France is an attempt to experience something different and while I’m there, think about what I want to do in the future.

Coaching interests me but at the same time it’s a very tough job when you have young kids. Other areas of business interest me too, but I still have to figure out what it is I want to do. I’ve been immersed in rugby for so long; it’s not easy to make definitive decisions about my future at the moment.’

He says Roy Keane remains a sporting hero of his, does he admire anyone in business?

When I started playing for Munster, Roy Keane was a hero of mine. His attitude was inspiring and I suppose we all tried to be like him in terms of his strength and determination. I admire plenty of business people, big and small. I think what Michael O’Flynn did with Blackstone is admirable. I also admire Michael O’Leary; I read his book recently.

“Good habits are what save you when times are tough”

Has he ever worked in a business?

Believe it or not, I once worked on the door as a bouncer. I also worked in my local golf club’s pro shop. I worked in my local SPAR shop for four years, and I worked for Johnson and Johnson in the IT department as work experience during college. I’ve done a little bit [outside of rugby] but not a lot.

paul oconnell

Does he have any mental health tips, tips to keep steady when the going gets tough?

Good habits are what save you when times are tough. The habits you do every week. When I’ve had dips in form, that’s what I go back to, the way I train and the good habits I do every week. I think that’s what mental strength is when people can rely on something, on certain good habits, when things aren’t going well. That’d be my tip. If I had a bit longer to think about the question we could have a good long discussion on the topic.

Photos courtesy of Sportsfile.