James O’Connor has admitted he wanted to walk away from the game in his twenties after years of injuries, partying and wrong decisions left him looking for the door.
In a wide-ranging interview with Emma Greenwood in rugby.com.au, O’Connor also warns Australian players about going overseas on big contracts, and suggests staying in Australia is the way to go for young Aussie talent.
The 29-year-old is now back with the Queensland Reds, having made a Rugby World Cup comeback with the Wallabies last year.
The playmaker talks of his time abroad in the UK and France, and of how he had fallen out of love with the game. Getting arrested for cocaine possession in Paris was the straw that nearly broke the camel’s back.
“I thought after what happened in France I was done. So to be here (Queensland) now, it’s just, enjoy it.”
“I was close (to giving up rugby). I thought if I do my ankle one more time, I’m done.
“That was in 2017 – if I hurt it again, I was done. I thought it would (happen). I was like, I’ll just give up and I’ll find something, something good will come about.”
O’Connor’s injuries while in Europe got so bad at one stage that he was barely fit for one hour of training a day and was unable to sidestep or run properly. O’Connor blames the lure of alcohol and a party lifestyle for his inability to get back to full fitness. Pain had become a daily issue for the playmaker.
“It (pain) riddled me for so long. But my choices didn’t help,” he said. “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.
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“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.
“I spent three years overseas where I was in pain every session. I couldn’t run, I couldn’t sidestep and that was my main game, so I had to develop other areas.
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“But it was frustrating. That put me more into a hole because if you can’t express yourself, you’re just whacking against a wall.
“I was like, I just can’t catch a break. But I was the one causing it, with my life choices and where I was putting my energy.”
“I’d fallen into some horrible habits,” O’Connor said. “I was broken. I was broken physically, I couldn’t get on the field, I could train only an hour a day, maximum.
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“Sometimes, I could only train once or twice a week, my body was just weak, I’d had so many surgeries.”
O’Connor says he has found peace and is back concentrating on rugby and staying fit.
The utility back who can cover every position in the backline other than 9, also warns of the pull of lucrative contracts overseas.
“You want to be here, you want to be hustling, you want to be grinding with your mates in Australia,” he said.
“We have an amazing country – this is genuinely where you want to be. You speak to anyone who goes and lives overseas, they love the experience – but they can’t wait to get home.”
You can read the full interview HERE.
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