However the 33-year-old stuck around in Australia and watched from the sidelines as the Lions went on to claim a first tour victory in 16 years.
Having been selected for the Lions in 2005 and 2009 as well, O'Connell finally had something to celebrate in the famous red jersey when all was said and done.
And it is this emotion that O'Connell is choosing to focus on and not the fact that injury took away the chance to be more involved.
"I certainly look upon myself as part of a winning series but it is not the same as playing all three Tests," said O'Connell, whose place on the plane to Australia was in doubt after spending five months out with a back injury.
"Even if you look at the celebrations after the final game, the guys that played are really the guys that are getting stuck in to throwing the champagne all over the place, the rest of us are on the periphery.
"So it isn't the same and there is no doubt it isn't the same but I wouldn't go so far to say it means nothing to me.
"It was a very special time and special tour. Before you go on the Lions tour you hear so much about them and how you make friends for life and all that. And when I went on the 05 one I felt like I had been sold a pup because it didn't happen at all for me.
"But 09 and 2013 were just fantastic tours where I really did make some great friends and really did enjoy the rugby and enjoyed the experienced.
"I wasn't 100 per cent part of it but played a big part in a Test series victory and that is only the fifth victory in 125 th years which is incredible.
"And I said before the tour the guys that have won a Lions tour are a little bit different to the rest of us so it is nice to join that group."