Monday 24 July 2017

Hugh Farrelly: The day drico won hearts of munster fans

Hugh Farrelly

THE Rob Roy is one of Cork city's best known rugby pubs. Along with the Castle Inn, Barry's of Douglas and the (now sadly defunct) Western Star, the Rob Roy has a long and storied association with Cork rugby.

It hosted meetings of the Munster referees for many years and served as the Sunday's Well hangout when former 'Well and Munster second-row Finbarr Kearney was the charismatic host.

Naturally, the vast majority of its rugby clientele are Munster supporters and there were a large number of them present on a cold Friday night in December 2004 enjoying a few pints and anticipating the Heineken Cup clash against Castres in Limerick the following day.

The many screens on the premises were showing Leinster's match with Bourgoin, but were only attracting derisory attention. For, while the story of Munster-Leinster supporter rivalry has been overplayed in the last decade, there was no denying the sense of resentment felt by many Munster fans towards Leinster at that time.

Munster fans were still in chip-on-the-shoulder mode. They had yet to land their holy grail and each campaign seemed to bring tough draws and heroic failures -- the thought of Leinster getting their hands on the Heineken Cup first was unpalatable for many.

Bourgoin had been a disgrace the previous week in Dublin, going down 92-17, but, in front of their own crowd, the French were up for the return clash and raucous Rob Roy cheers greeted the Bourgoin tries from Benjamin Boyet and Jean Francois Coux.

As the game entered its dying stages, the home side were ahead 23-19 and it looked like another Leinster flop in a match they were expected to win easily.

Then Leinster won a line-out just outside the Bourgoin '22', Shane Byrne found Malcolm O'Kelly who sent off-the-top ball down to Guy Easterby. The scrum-half hit David Holwell with a perfect delivery, allowing the Kiwi to send a skip-one pass into the hands of Brian O'Driscoll.

What happened next reduced the packed bar to stunned silence. O'Driscoll stepped in off his right, immediately flummoxing two defenders, swerved outside a third, dummied to Shane Horgan and ran round the full-back before out-pacing the covering winger and diving over for the winning score.

This was in O'Driscoll's floppy, highlights in the hair phase, a time when his glitzy image aroused considerable scorn down south. Yet, the Munster fans in the Rob Roy that night knew their rugby and recognised that they were looking at something special.

When the try was replayed in slow motion, they broke into spontaneous applause.

That incident came to mind this week when news of O'Driscoll being out for six months due to shoulder surgery was released. There was no indication of any such announcement last week, when O'Driscoll enthusiastically outlined his intentions to play on as long as his "head and body" told him it was the right thing to do.

The assumption was that he would be used judiciously again this season to keep him fresh for big Leinster and Ireland matches, only for medical advice to suggest surgery as the better course of action. And, contrary to some of the eulogies offered this week, Paul O'Connell got it right on Wednesday when he described it as a "great decision".

Agony

Going out on the opportunity lost agony of a World Cup quarter-final exit would not be a fitting end for a player of this stature. There are still goals to aim at and O'Driscoll speaks passionately about the carrot of a first Irish win over New Zealand next summer.

Perhaps not quite on the same level as reaching a World Cup semi-final, but beating the world champions in New Zealand would represent a monumental achievement, and O'Driscoll wants another crack at it.

Then there is the Lions tour the following year. Having gone close to tasting series victories on two tours, and having being invalided out of a third, finishing his career with the Lions in Australia when his contract with Ireland is up would be a proper conclusion.

O'Driscoll will be 34 then but, if this surgery is successful, there is every chance that Ireland's finest player could return, as O'Connell says, "better than ever" for one last, 14-month surge.

That is the least he deserves and the prospect of a fully fit O'Driscoll writing a glorious final chapter to a stunning career is one that everyone invested in Irish rugby should hope for. Those who disagree should take a look at this http://goo.gl/oOT4j.

Irish Independent

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