O’Connell won a gold medal in the coxless four at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, having been part of a New Zealand world champion eight in 1982 and a New Zealand world champion coxed four in 1983.

He won a national coxless pairs title for Avon in 1984 and a coxless fours title in 1986.

O’Connell owns a successful building business in Christchurch and has done some coaching for the Avon club.