We will point at Brian and say to our young Munster boys 'Son, there is the player I want you to grow up to be'
Published 31/05/2014 | 02:30
I never think of Brian O'Driscoll as a Leinster man. I see him as one of us, an Irishman. He's owned by all of us now. Heroes are community property.
Brian is finishing up today. It's time for him to go – for his sake. His body has taken enough blows. We in Munster wish him well and more than that. Brian played like a Munster man. How we wish he was a Munster man.
There was never any holding back. O'Driscoll was never the biggest, but always the bravest and he played every game as if it was his last. These are the values we hold closest to our southern hearts. The rest of Leinster followed his lead, and so it was a culture of courage was born from the pragmatic heroism of giving good example.
You can play badly and Munster will forgive you, but play cowardly and they never will. O'Driscoll was never found wanting.
There were days when he ripped us up. We try to forget the breakaway try that sealed Munster's fate in a Heineken Cup semi-final and several tackles that were barely legal, but somehow we could never bring ourselves to dislike him. If he plays like us, he is surely one of us.
He had a terrier's tenacity, digging away for the ball like a lost bone, with pay-dirt kickback shovelled right in to in his opponents' faces. But he always stayed on the right side of the Munster men he was leading out to battle in the green. The Munster men respected Brian and would follow him to the gates of hell.
But Dublin was the place where it all began. The time of the boy before the man. Back when. In the garden. A small boy is dreaming in Clontarf of glory.
He breaks the tackle, kicks ahead, links, dummy, skip 'n' jink, phase after phase. In such ways are champions made. Mammy calls again. "Dinner's getting cold." The chase goes on. He wins the race. Try for Ireland. The crowd go wild.
There's a common thread here. All small boys dream of glory days in green – I have been present when family and friends fought over the right to be Brian in Munster paddocks.
That Clontarf garden could have been in Garryowen or a farmer's field in The Golden Vale. His core values transcended fealty to borders and place.
We will point to you, Brian, and say to our own young Munster boys: "Hey son, there's the player I want you to grow to be. Full of faith, hope and honesty."
We'd have loved if his Munster mother had taken him back home when he was a boy, but he was, and will always will be, a Leinster man.
Brian made Leinster marketable and wholesome. There were Leinster people from outside the narrow boroughs of insular, homogeneous city grids who could never take to their own province. They were converted by his bravery and his eye for the try.
That man would pick periwinkles in another man's pocket. A long time ago we wrote that it would be easier to grab an eel swimming in dishwasher suds. He was fast then.
As time wore on and the body wore down, O'Driscoll's brain made up for what was lacking in his legs. He was the leader who led by performing all his tasks. His courage was unsurpassed and never a tackle was shirked.
Brian never asked another to do what he wouldn't do himself. It was then, in the latter days, that he won back the country Leinster people from Munster.
Three European crowns with Leinster are his trophy legacies. 'In BOD we trust,' the blue banners screamed. Blue waves broke on Europe's shores. Young boys' dreams really do come true.
We reclaimed him when he wore the green. Ireland had custody then. Our two greatest days were in Paris against the French, and in the Millennium against the Welsh. He was our captain that day in Cardiff and how he led us. 61 years of pain and waiting. 61 years of hearts breaking.
The thin green line is about to fall apart; the centre cannot hold. But you held us, captain. We dared not fail. Be bold, be bold. Drive on, drive on. Five million prayed. Shiny pants slid off the edge of seats. Novenas made dust out of beads.
The game in the balance until the very end. In the small boy's garden in Cardiff. He lifted the Grand Slam with President Mary McAleese by his side. His smile was as wide an estuary. Never was a leader more needed.
Then in his last year, this year, Brian showed his bravery on the barricades of Paris.
His body screamed for a rest. The cuteness of moving his troops to the ever shifting breach where they were needed most saved him from younger, bigger and faster opponents.
Ireland beat the French to win the Six Nations. In Paris of all places, where we only ever tasted the bitter grit of defeat with snouts into the Paris earth.
That day in St Denis, we held our heads up high. In the dark recession, never did a leader deliver more.
Now the whole world knows your name.
Brian has gained not just fame but respect, wherever the game is played. In Munster we salute the warrior who enters the fray today for the last time.
Form a guard of honour, Munster, and we'll clap Brian O'Driscoll on to the field.