O’Driscoll shown no mercy but final farewell has silver lining

After his rivets popped and seams burst the needle just went too far into the red

Joyous scenes at the RDS as Leinster defeat Glasgow Warriors in the RaboDirect Pro 12 Final. The game marked the final appearances of Leo Cullen and Brian O'Driscoll. Video: Bryan O'Brien


Sport doesn’t care who you are. It doesn’t know what you did or what you meant. It couldn’t be less interested in what you want.

We came to Ballsbridge to watch Brian O’Driscoll one last time and left having hardly seen him. All we squeezed out of his battered and worn body was a measly eight minutes before his calf screamed for mercy.

It was as though sport was reminding us that it was around long before us and it will live a long lush life after we’re gone. If we forget that sometimes it’s because of people like O’Driscoll. We get caught up in the pure enjoyment of their wonders and we make like nothing was ever better and more, that nothing ever will be. There’s no harm in it at all.

So we came to see O’Driscoll play his last game because we like stories to have endings. It was as much for us as it was for him. The generation who’ve plugged into rugby in Ireland during its explosion mostly don’t remember a time before him. To walk into the RDS and realise that this was the last time Brian O’Driscoll would be seen on a rugby pitch couldn’t but give you a jolt.

It wasn’t so much the realisation that we wouldn’t see his gifts again, more that trying to think of rugby without him didn’t quite make sense yet. It was like imagining never seeing another rainy day. Though his goodbyes are Sinatran at this stage and have given us plenty of time to get our heads around it, we still figured we’d have a final evening of it just to be sure.

So we came early. We watched for him as the players came out of the tunnel for the warm-up in dribs and drabs, with his drib cheered to the rafters. We saw him hit his last tackle bags, shuttle through his last passing drill, trot off behind Jamie Heaslip into his last pre-game dressing room. Amazing how circumstance makes the mundane seem important.

And then, almost as soon as it started, it ended. Glasgow started the game far better than Leinster. Jimmy Gopperth got blocked down, Mike Ross got stung for a penalty that Finn Russell kicked to put Glasgow 3-0 up.

O’Driscoll wasn’t involved in the game but mostly because Leinster weren’t on the front foot at any stage yet. They made a mess of a kick to the corner when a kick at goal would have done the trick. All in all, it was a nervy opening.

From the next play, Leinster went through the phases and pressured Glasgow inside their own 22. O’Driscoll made his first sprint of the game, a decoy run to disguise an Eoin Reddan pass to Gordon D’Arcy. Somewhere in the middle of it, his calf went.

It wasn’t a snap or an obvious tear. There was no big dramatic pull-up. Just the groaning, fraying price of 15 years’ toil being paid one last time. All through his final season, O’Driscoll has been operating with rivets popping and seams bursting. This time, the needle just went too far into the red.

He tried to stay on, obviously. Wouldn’t have been him if he hadn’t. Leinster doctor Arthur Tanner came over and checked him and got the usual wave away.

But when Glasgow kicked long from the next possession and O’Driscoll went to chase back for it, his race was run inside the first few steps.

It was over. Tanner came on, signalling to the bench and shaking his head. The pair of them walked to the sideline, O’Driscoll tearing the tape wrapping from his wrists and throwing it to the ground in disgust.

Around the ground, the realisation set in. Life without Brian O’Driscoll wasn’t an abstract idea anymore. This was him, walking out of our lives. The whole place got to its feet. The noise was deafening.

But sport goes on. Ian Madigan took his place in midfield, Leinster won the lineout. Sport goes on and Leinster will go on. They ran out 34-12 winners and chucked another Rabo onto the pile of silver they’ve collected and intend to keep collecting.

Matt O’Connor ended his first season with a trophy and we went home knowing that one whatever happens, there will be another Brian O’Driscoll someday.

Still though. What a pleasure it was to be around for this one.

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