We are aware of the saying “that we may never see their likes again.” It’s usually said about a person whose deeds of courage or kindness have elevated them above all others.
Very few sportsmen or woman will come into contention as, after all, sport is just sport, but last Saturday in Paris one of the greats of Irish sport called time on his illustrious international career.
For over a decade Brian O’Driscoll has been one of the main reasons behind the success of Irish rugby. From the outset of his career he has set the standard; as a captain and leader he put his body on the line not only for the jersey but also for his team mates.
If you want to sum up O’Driscoll as a player go back to when we won the Grand Slam in 2009. They played England in what most of the players described as the most physical they ever played in. O’Driscoll took three late tackles in-a-row, and probably had a bit of concussion. O’Gara kicked a penalty up the line and from the lineout the Irish forwards set the ball up and from nowhere O’Driscoll crouched through himself into two English players and touched down for a try; the game changed and as they say the rest is history.
I was lucky enough to see Ireland play against the All-Blacks in Croke Park in the Autumn series a few years ago. I couldn’t get over the size and physicality of the New Zealanders but there wasn’t one of them that O’Driscoll didn’t tackle.
As the players lined up to shake hands when the game was over every one of the All-Blacks went out of their way to shake O’Driscoll’s hand. They were the world champions yet you could see the respect and admiration they had for the Irish number 13.
There will be many pages written and many talk shows about O’Driscoll in the next number of months but what stands out most is that in all his time at the top he has never taken his eye of what really mattered. When he was out injured and more often than not with serious injuries, he always came back stronger. When he was dropped from the final Lions’ test last year he didn’t throw the rattle out of the pram; he supported his team mates and never made the issue about himself. Always it was about the team and that’s what makes him different and probably one of the best.
In a game that is so physical and at times brutal with tackles flying in from everywhere O’Driscoll has been picked out on many occasions from the opposition for special treatment. In all his time you will have rarely seen him asking the referee or any match official to take action; he just got up and got on with it.
In his last game in the Irish jersey at home to Italy he was given a standing ovation when he was with drawn after 60 minutes. He had a hand in three tries and he was embarrassed about all the fuss. In his after-match interview he was only interested in making sure that they were ready for the challenge the following week in Paris. Last Saturday in the Stade de France he was on the field for the entirety of the game; he tackled, rucked for the ball and set up Jonathon Sexton for his second try. In his final minutes as a Irish player he still had no regard for his own body; it was all about supporting his team mates and winning.
The words ‘greatest’ and ‘legend’ are often used where they have no right to be used but in Brian O’Driscoll’s case I doubt few could argue. There will always be arguments about who was the best in all sports and of course it’s impossible to judge one player of a different era against another from a different time but regardless of his achievements and accolades O’Driscoll comes across as someone who has enjoyed his time playing for his country.
Typical of O’Driscoll, hours after playing his last game he sent a message out on twitter thanking all who supporting him all through the years and how hard it was taking his Irish jersey off for the last time. Whoever is handed the number 13 jersey the next time Ireland play will have one serious act to follow.
After starting the National League like a sprinter out of the blocks, Donegal seem to have dropped their guard in the last couple of weeks. From the outset I felt Donegal would have too much for most of the sides in Division Two. While the game against Meath could have gone either way, the defeat by Down last Sunday has raised a few eyebrows. After the wake up call by Meath many, including myself, expected Donegal to bounce back and secure promotion in Newry leaving the management team a couple of games to maybe try out a couple of new players or get a little more game time for players that have not played much this year.
I have no doubt that Jim and the management team have one eye on the game against Derry in the first round of the Ulster championship and it will not have gone unnoticed Derry’s fine performance against Dublin, it was by no means a fluke as Derry were the stronger team throughout and under Brian McIver seem to have got rid of the many problems that have blighted Derry football in the last few years.
Donegal have a couple of weeks to iron out any of the shortcomings of the last few games; a win against Louth in Ballyshannon will set them up for the last league game away to Armagh knowing a win will almost automatically secure them a place in Division One next year.