British & Irish Lions lock O'Connell has been given until Thursday lunchtime to recover from the shoulder injury he sustained against France nearly four weeks ago.
The AC joint separation ruled him out of the 31-5 victory over Wales and it is an indication of his immense worth that coach Eddie O'Sullivan has allowed him as much time as possible to pull through.
If the 26-year-old is given the green light, he will replace either O'Kelly or Donncha O'Callaghan with the discarded lock having to settle for a place on the bench.
Axing either of the starting second rows against Wales is a tough call for O'Sullivan given their performances at Lansdowne Road, but O'Kelly understands his coach's position.
"We want to give Paul every opportunity because he was our best player over the first two games. It's very important that he has every chance to be involved," he said.
"Paul is very keen and the rest of us will just have to wait. I don't have a problem with that. We'll just continue what we're doing and it won't upset any of our preparations.
"We're set up as we're playing and will just have to wait and see what happens."
Should O'Connell fail to recover, O'Sullivan will keep faith with the engine room which started against Wales, with Mick O'Driscoll remaining on the bench.
Second row is a position of enormous strength for Ireland and O'Kelly, Ireland's most capped player with 78 Test appearances, relishes the fierce competition for places.
"Lock has been such a competitive area of the team for years. It's great because it keeps you on your toes and draws the best from everybody," he said.
"Paul and Donncha are two quite different players. Paul offers good leadership - he's quite a dominant character. Donncha isn't quite as dominant in leadership terms but his work ethic is second to none.
"They're both really good guys to have around the camp and you can't fault either of them.
"Mick is a good guy as well. He's been around a while and his experience with Perpignan in France had helped him reach this level. If he gets a run I'm sure he'll be fine."