Almighty BOD quick to point out that he’s a mere mortal – and not that big either
“You’re only a small fella, sure I might have a cut off you myself”
Brian O’Driscoll with his daughter Sadie after the third Lions’ test. Photograph: BillyStickland/Inpho
At one point in Saturday’s Heineken Cup match in the RDS, the Sky Sports cameras zoomed in on a suited Brian O’Driscoll, shielding his eyes with his hands from the strong winter sun, and we couldn’t but wonder if he had a gumshield in his pocket.
On the previous night’s Late, Late Show with Ryan Tubridy on RTÉ, O’Driscoll had recalled how, after being dropped from the final match of the Lions’ Test series in Australia in favour of Jamie Roberts, he had gone along to the match in a suit but with a gum shield in his pocket just in case the Welsh centre broke down in the warm-up.
Such a revelation from O’Driscoll provided an insight into the mindset of the greatest rugby player to have emerged from this island of ours. He is not one for sitting in the stands, of being an accessory. He is one who always wants to be in the thick of the action, as a video shot of his effing and blinding in the Ireland dressingroom ahead of that historic match with England in Croke Park reminded us.
“It’s about patience, about discipline, about that controlled passion,” roared BOD to his Irish team-mates before taking the pitch. “Do we f***ing possess it? Then it’s going to show, in each and every one of you, everyone performs their best ever game for Ireland today. Their best ever game!”
The use of language was, as O’Driscoll conceded, a throwback to the old school way of motivational speaking. “That hyping in changing rooms has probably changed since then, it has probably gone a bit calmer, [with] cooler, more concise messages being delivered. [There’s] less ranting, more ‘get the head down, focus on what you need to do’ going out.”
That 2007 match with England in Croke Park was, as O’Driscoll recalled, one of the high points of his career. As he put it, “Those of us that played Gaelic football growing up understood the enormity of what that was and what that meant to get the chance to bring rugby and play it in the sacred ground of Croke Park. To lose the first game (to France) the way we did was very disappointing, one of those weeks we knew there is no way we can lose, there’s too much at stake here.
It wasn’t just about sport, it was about the whole country. And people who had never been to rugby match in their lives were trying there best to get tickets for. It was one of those spectacles that would be very, very hard ever to recreate.”
O’Driscoll’s interview with Tubridy wasn’t the stuff of rocket science. There was no talk of spear tackles, or of concussion in rugby. It was light entertainment, yet it succeeded in giving us another insight into one of the most popular sportsmen this country has ever produced. The collection of photographs of the young BOD in short pants showed him with different sports balls in hand.
He could have been a Gaelic player, a golfer, a cricketer, a tennis player. That rugby became his life was something of a blessing for Ireland and, of course, Leinster.
Tubridy described O’Driscoll as a “national hero” although O’Driscoll – invariably with that cheeky grin which has become a trademark – was able to let us know that he is really just a mere mortal. He recounted stories of meeting people for the first time, when he’d be met with remarks along the lines of, “Jeez, you’re not that big” or, “You’re only a small fella, sure I might have a cut off you myself.”
On Saturday , as he again sat in the stand wearing a suit, this time watching Leinster play rather than the Lions, another line of his interview with Tubridy came to mind. “We compete. We want to be out there, want to have that pressure, that squeeze on you, because that’s what we live for, that adrenaline rush. You don’t get that in the stand. You’re cheering the lads on and wanting them to do well, but you can’t experience the emotions they had.”
Nothing beats playing.