James O’Connor Photo: SuppliedWhat is there to say these days about James O’Connor?
He is a misdemeanour away from being a sad footnote in n rugby history, if he hasn’t reached that point already.
After a bender in France with Racing 92 player, the former All Black Ali Williams, O’Connor is facing a charge of cocaine possession. Reports suggest it was Williams who is in the hotter water, facing a charge of buying the illicit drug, while O’Connor will likely escape with a fine.
What it means for his playing future, is uncertain. Reportedly the 26-year-old wants to stay in France and is in the process of negotiating a new deal with Toulon. Oh, to be a fly on the wall during his next meeting with colourful club owner Mourad Boudjellal. If his intention is to return to , there will be no consequence leading from the transgression other than a requirement he disclose the charge. Judging by the headlines it generated this weekend, and the long list of disciplinary matters preceding this incident, that disclosure will be a formality.
So what’s the big deal? James O’Connor doesn’t owe rugby, or the n game, anything. His life is his own to live, his talent his own to squander. It is his own regrets with which he will live in a decade or so – and doesn’t that time come around quicker than you think.
If it weren’t for his recent return to for the Brisbane Global Tens, and the clutch of interviews he has given over the past three months about his newfound maturity, perhaps Brand O’Connor’s big night out wouldn’t rate a mention.
But let’s recap.
“Sometimes things don’t turn out how you want it to but you mature with age,” O’Connor told News Ltd three weeks ago.
“I feel like I’m back to the stage where I want to be the best player on the field again. I lost that for a while there, I didn’t think I had but now I know I did.”
He said much the same to Fairfax Media in Europe last November.
“[My motivation] is now flipped to a new level. I want to be playing for the Wallabies. I watch all the games and, speaking to all the guys, it’s the pinnacle of rugby. It’s bittersweet as well, because you want to be out there playing. For now, it is pretty tough. That burning desire is there to pull on that jersey again.”
Groan. It’s just so boring to watch. If only he would stop telling ns what he or his manager thinks they all want to hear.
Maybe O’Connor decided three years ago he didn’t care if he ever played again to his potential, or in an n jersey. Maybe he wants to live the good life – big nights out, big holidays, big haircuts – and that’s what his talent will pay for until it won’t anymore.
No worries. Good luck to him. There’s nothing more liberating than being honest with yourself, which often allows you to be honest with those around you, and there are few characters better to write about in sport than those few, honest characters.
Just spare us the tell-alls next time you want a contract, James. And at the age of 26, almost a decade into your professional career, spare us these lines:
“No one taught me how to cope, how to act in this environment. I came straight out of school, I wasn’t the best student, just wanting to play rugby. I wasn’t planning to be anyone’s role model.”
Own your choices now, because you will surely have to own them in 10 years’ time when the money has dried up and the peroxide has taken its toll on your hair follicles.
As Wallabies coach Michael Cheika likes to say, often in defence of good human beings who have done the wrong thing, “the game needs its characters”.
It surely does. That must extend to its sad footnotes, too.