O’Driscoll signs off to end era on winning note

Ireland’s lucky number 13 ‘very grateful’ to be able to finish career on such a high

Brian O’Driscoll enjoys a quiet moment in the dressing room after the game. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Brian O’Driscoll enjoys a quiet moment in the dressing room after the game. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Mon, Mar 17, 2014, 01:00

It’s usually only in the movies that the hero rides off into the sunset with the bounty. Sometimes though, just occasionally, it happens in sport also.

And there could be no more fitting way for Ireland’s greatest rugby player to sign off his stellar international career than with an overdue second Six Nations title secured in the ground where he announced himself to the world 14 years previously.

It was almost too perfect.

The knowledgeable home contingent in the Stade De France seemed as pleased for him as the travelling green army judging by the roar which echoed around the ground when his name was initially announced and afterwards when he was revealed as man of the match.

One of his greatest legacies was the respect he generated throughout the game as a global star and now the world’s most capped player with 141 Tests. Good wishes towards Ireland, and especially O’Driscoll, from blue-clad supporters were commonplace before and after the game, helped by their dislike of the thought that a French win would hand the title to the dastardly English. “We could not lose today,” as one put it.

Momentous occasion
“Obviously I have lots of good memories in between but to have had 2000 and our first victory there in 28 years and not have won since then to finish up there 14 years later is incredibly special. Not many people get to finish their career on their own terms and certainly not with high emotions like there have been today,” he said. “I feel very fortunate and thankful that I am part of a great, great team that has the potential to go on and do more special things.”

One of the more poignant aspects of his dutiful, yet measured and humorous post-match briefing to the written media was his reluctance to take off his sweat-soaked green jersey.

“Just sheer delight,” was how he described his emotions. “I played on for one more year and was hopeful to get a victory against the All Blacks but it didn’t happen. And to win a six nations and that did happen. You can’t have it all but you take the bits that you get. It has been a fantastic Six Nations for us and I have enjoyed every second of it.

“Whatever it is, 44 minutes, an hour after the game and I don’t want to take this jersey off yet because I know when I take it off that will be the last time.”

Utterly true to type, he and Ireland had handled the occasion of his last Test without any hoopla or distractions.

“I think I try to channel the emotions into the performance. I played fair today. You can’t allow the occasion to get the better of you. You have to make sure you are able to be a cog in a wheel for the team and that is what I tried to do. Emotions come afterwards and they did.

“There were some great emotions in the dressingroom and I am sure there will be tears later when there are multiple beers on board probably. It’s a lovely way to finish out in a jersey I have had so much fun in over the last 15 years. I feel very grateful to be able to finish on such a high.”

Admitting there was “a frog in my throat alright” as he and the players conducted their lap of honour, he added: “There was some emotion and . . . I know when I pull off this jersey in a few minutes time and I actually do have a shower because I know I have to shower tonight then it will be hard. But it will come with a great sense of happiness that I have finished on a great high after a lot of ‘nearly’.”

And with that he was off to the dressing-room to take off his number 13 green jersey for the last time. But he’s a lucky 13 after all. Ireland’s exception to the rule in every sense.

Verily we will never see his like again.

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