Golden boy O'Connor ready for second chance

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O'Connor, 29, believes he has dealt with the demons that railroaded his blooming rugby career during his mid-20s as a result of issues with drugs and alcohol, injuries and his ego.

 

He told rugby.com.au that he believed he has restored his career as a result of finding peace, and that has meant more to him than making Australia's Rugby World Cup team, taking part in a record win over the All Blacks or getting the chance to play for the Reds in Investec Super Rugby in 2020.

 

"For me, peace is…when you're creating. For me, my creative flow is rugby. Other people are artists, or they're very good with numbers.

 

"The most freeing feeling I have is when I'm on the field and I'm moving and moving the way I want; stepping, throwing long passes and it's just happening, it's all just flowing," he said.

 

"You come off and you're like, that was a good day. And that just makes me appreciative and grateful to be able to do that again."

 

Having signed a two-year contract with the Reds and Rugby Australia, O'Connor didn't see that as an end to his career, rather it was the beginning.

 

"Everyone talks about getting to the World Cup and that was always the goal and the dream but that was almost the driving force to keep me motivated, to get me through the pain day to day," he said.

 

"I'm genuinely telling you, to be at peace – which I didn't think I would be for a long time – that's success to me."

 

O'Connor said being able to wake up, move freely throughout the day and be pain free, and also not angry at the world, made everything a bonus for him now because he didn't think it would happen again.

 

"I thought after what happened in France [an arrest for using cocaine during a nightclub sting in 2017] I was done. So to be here now, it's just, enjoy it," he said.

 

The arrest occurred in a forgettable 2017 when he felt if he suffered one more ankle injury his career was over.

 

"I was at the point where I thought: 'I'm not putting up with this anymore'.

 

"You become angry. You genuinely become angry and you become a victim, have that victim mentality.

 

"You create you own reality with the decisions you make and what you're focusing on," he said.

 

His redemption came about as a result of rebuilding his body in order to cope with the pain that had been with him for years. That meant rejecting the lifestyle he had been living.

 

"It [pain] riddled me for so long. But my choices didn't help.

 

"I remember after I got my first ankle surgery, I was with the boys on the weekend and we went to one of the boys' houses and got some drinks.

 

"Obviously alcohol is so bad on not only your body and your guts but it thins your blood and it's not the way to [recover].

 

"But back then, I was like, 'I'll heal, I'm young. I've always healed in the past'.

 

"But you get to a certain age where you don't heal the same and if you don't look after yourself, you can't play rugby – if you don't make the right decisions, if you don't put rugby first, it will be taken away from you. And it was for me," he said.

 

O'Connor said in three seasons overseas pain was a constant affecting his running and side-stepping, key areas of his game, and he had to develop other areas.

 

"It was frustrating. That put me more into a hole because if you can't express yourself, you're just whacking against a wall."

 

He felt he couldn't get a break, but didn't realise his life choices were contributing to his issues.

 

He had fallen into what he called 'horrible habits' and was physically broken only able to train for an hour a day. Mentally he was also suffering and said his contact with Saviour World, an organisation that is a well-being group for modern men, had turned him around.

 

It rejuvenated him and eventually his rugby and now he is looking to build on that with the Reds this year.

 

"That's my plan. I want to plant some roots down in Australia. I'm here for the long term.

 

"I'll let my rugby do the talking and go from there, but I'm home now," he said.

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