Sport Rugby

Thursday 8 December 2016

George Hook: Gordon D'Arcy's greatest gift was to make those around him look good

Published 02/05/2015 | 02:30

Gordon D'Arcy's partnership with Brian O’Driscoll for Leinster and Ireland became a world record but like all great double acts, assumption remained that there was a senior partner
Gordon D'Arcy's partnership with Brian O’Driscoll for Leinster and Ireland became a world record but like all great double acts, assumption remained that there was a senior partner

Psychologists believe it is bad to give a child too much too soon. What those experts might have made of Gordon D'Arcy, who has just announced his intention to retire from rugby after the World Cup, would make interesting reading.

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In 1998, while still at Clongowes - where he played at full-back - then Ireland coach Warren Gatland called him up for the tour to South Africa. The youngster wisely refused. It was a brave decision.

Gatland was not for turning and picked the young man in the 1999 World Cup squad, capping him as a substitute against Romania.

At this point the psychologists would have had a field day. Starting at the top, D'Arcy went backwards. Leinster used him at wing and full-back but he was far from a hit. He looked uninterested, had a poor work rate and rarely posed a threat to opposing defences.

The test of D'Arcy the man began and he displayed qualities of maturity and courage not often seen in sportsmen. We knew he had the talent, we doubted his commitment.

His move to centre was the first stage of his rehabilitation. The partnership with Brian O'Driscoll for Leinster and Ireland became a world record but like all great double acts, assumption remained that there was a senior partner.

But where would Buzz Lightyear be without Woody, Butch without Sundance and Batman without Robin?

That he served as the silent partner in one of Irish rugby's great centre partnerships is perhaps unfortunate for his legacy.

But D'Arcy was crucial to O'Driscoll's success. His unselfish efforts made his partner look good as he did all the donkey work. He was the quintessential straight man.

He was also an incredible reader of the game. His innate understanding of defensive positioning and the art of the tackle allowed him to compete with some of the meanest giants in the game. He repeatedly squared up against bigger men and came out on top.

Only when he was absent were his qualities appreciated.

With ball in hand he defied physics to make yards where there was no space to manoeuvre. One his greatest strengths was getting over the gain-line and allowing his team to build momentum and suck in defenders. He made it possible for Ronan O'Gara and other number No 10s to look good.

D'Arcy went on two Lions tours and his off-field courage surpassed any performance on the pitch.

On the ill-fated Clive Woodward adventure to New Zealand, the young centre was pilloried because it was suggested that he refused to play citing being 'too tired'. Whatever the truth, few players would lose the opportunity of a Lions Test cap without sound reason. D'Arcy was learning.

On the next tour, he and he alone refused to take the supplements offered on the basis that he was concerned about the unknown effects on his body. It was an under-reported act that should be nailed to the wall of every school in the country.

Gordon D'Arcy leaves the stage with our best wishes to hopefully start a new career. The husband and father will no doubt apply the same bravery to that task as he did to his rugby.

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