But he is still desperate to cap his illustrious career with a victorious Lions series.
"The guys who have won Lions tours and World Cups are the ones that set themselves apart," O'Connell told the Western Mail.
"When I think of that 1997 team that went to South Africa, they are the real legends.
"They are the players that have really set themselves apart, players that have gone on Lions tours and won.
"I'd love to go next year, but you look at the quality of second rows that are around now, it's going to be very tough. But, yes, I'd love to go.
"Being a Lions year adds to the anticipation. You just have to perform the best you can for your team. If you do that, I think individual honours will come from that."
O'Connell admits securing a first series triumph since 1997 will be a huge challenge but he remains confident it can be done, providing the Lions appoint the right management team.
"I have been on two Lions tours and they are incredibly hard to win," said the 32-year-old.
"They are becoming harder and harder to win.
"To come together in the professional era and become a team, so much planning goes into that now. It's not like it was 20 years ago.
"So much planning goes into your defensive organisation, your set-piece, your attack organisation.
"To put together a team from four different countries, to take on a southern hemisphere superpower is a very difficult thing to do.
"But with really astute management, like the Lions had in 2009 with Ian McGeechan and Warren Gatland, it can be done.
"If you look at the players now around the home nations, I think the capability to come together in the team in a short time is there.
"It's a difficult task. I think every Lions team would be underdogs now for the rest of time.
"But I definitely think the Lions can go down there and win next year. It will be very difficult, but I think they can do it."