I don't have to stay at the one club for my whole career : O'Driscoll
He's devoted to Leinster and Ireland, but Brian O'Driscoll is keeping an open mind about the lure of foreign fields for his next chapter
Published 08/04/2010 | 05:00
Waiting for the man. It's been 20, 30, 40 minutes. The man is meeting the people. The people love the man. So the man keeps meeting the people. And everyone is smiling.
We wouldn't be the first to have noticed that Brian Gerard O'Driscoll seems more happy than at any other time in his life.
His sporting dreams have been fulfilled, his mind and body have reacted superbly to timely prompts in recent years and his personal life is swimming in contentment.
Picture another scene. A few weeks ago, an opportune early afternoon shimmy into Peter's Pub to mingle with the Welsh invasion occasioned an odd sight -- odd because of its almost incongruous ordinariness. Because there is Ireland's most venerable sports star sitting outside a restaurant a day before the Wales match, utterly oblivious to the bustling throng around him, the busy eyes alighting on his relaxed frame, the whispers of recognition inescapably darting around his ears.
He seems completely at home. It seems strange and yet it's utterly simple. He is at home. Less than 24 hours before one of the biggest games of the season, he is the most relaxed man in the city.
"I have no difficulty in switching off," he says when asked to recall that snapshot. "There are times you're aware of people. I can hear people. People think they can speak and you can't hear. I have ears. The vast amount of time it's nice.
"But you hear people uttering things ... I can sense people following me for five minutes at a time. But I don't stress about it any more. I love 'Busy Feet' in town, I love that area, I love sitting outside when it's sunny, I love their berry crumble. Nothing that happens is ever going to stop me doing the things that I like doing."
Anyone who has captured his charitable contribution to the Angels -- Beacons of Hope cause (his illustrated effort can still be seen in Killiney's Fitzpatrick's Hotel for another week) can understand his affinity with the concept of remaining calm amidst a storm of swirling expectations.
His angel drawing depicts a kicker standing alone while all around are expectant folks willing him on; the hopes of a nation reliant on one man. O'Driscoll hasn't been a place-kicker since school, but he understands that feeling of being relied upon by so many.
"The idea of it is hope," he says. "Originally, I was going to do something about the Thierry Henry incident, but that passed and this had to be about longevity.
"I thought about kickers and how tough it is for them, everyone is hopeful for them, but it's down to just one person. It captures that pressurised situation, I remember it from years ago and it's a pretty thankless job.
"You see Jonny Sexton last Friday -- I admire that. Their team-mates are willing them and the crowd are on their backs. Rog would be the same over the years."
As much as he remains devoted to Leinster and Dublin, O'Driscoll did flirt uneasily with French club rugby, notably Biarritz, and, some time down the road beyond the next World Cup and the expiry of his current contract, the lure of sunny French climes may still tug at his sleeve.
"I don't rule anything out," he says. "In the past, rightly so, I was given a bit of stick for courting clubs. When Michael Cheika came in and I went down there (to Biarritz), nobody really knew about that at the time and I did have a big interest in going down.
"I was a bit dismayed about Leinster going through three coaches in three years and I wondered were Leinster going anywhere, but Cheiks gave us that stability. He was essentially the reason I stayed and I'm thankful for that.
"But that doesn't mean you have to stay in one club for your whole career. Perhaps if the situation arose -- (if) I wanted to taste something different for a year, I'd certainly be open to the idea of it.
"But to be honest, I haven't thought about it. I'm just answering questions that are asked. I went to pre-season in Nice last year and thought this would be nice. But that was a fleeting thought. I'm sure it will be nice wherever I go on holidays this year!"
There will have to be life after O'Driscoll though. Last Friday offered Leinster fans a glimpse, Fergus McFadden stepping up to the plate in his first pressure game and delivering in Thomond Park.
"Fergus was great, he was really good," he agrees. "Defensively very sound and he carried well. Fearless when kicking goals, even if an easy one. He's a great belief in his ability."
It seems sacrilegious to suggest that he wasn't missed. "Absolutely, I wasn't and it's good news. To win competitions, you need to build squads and have two guys in every position. That's what we're trying to do with Ireland as well."
So, there's a good chance O'Driscoll might have to beg his Paris-bound Leinster coach for a gig?
"I'm not really one to make massive decisions now. I still have 18 months left on my current contract. I'll wait until he gets over to Paris and see if he wants an old, battered 32-year-old. I mean, he's got a young guy in Mathieu Bastaraud, so it's not as if he's a shortage.
"No, I'm really happy where I am and enjoying my rugby. I'll cross that bridge, but it will be further down the track. Who knows, if Fergus keeps pushing, I might be shoved out the door!"
As if. Another Heineken Cup campaign is hotting up and, among other things, there is the issue of a trip to New Zealand, perhaps the only area in the world where his career remains unfulfilled or, for many Kiwis, unappreciated.
"I've never beaten New Zealand, whether (at) Lansdowne or Croker," he says.
"I don' t even know if we've finished within a score of them. It's one of the final mental stumbling blocks we need to get over. I suppose the more opportunities we get to do it the better. I'd love to be part of an Irish team that does it.
"I didn't know they didn't rate me, I don't read Kiwi blogs or whatever. I took my fair share of stick after the Lions tour, a lot of Kiwis jumped on the defensive bandwagon, but that's just their mentality. I don't worry too much about it."
Nothing worries him too much. A bit like the laconic Roger Sterling, the silver-haired, silver-tongued character in 'Mad Men,' the latest craze in what O'Driscoll calls his "fairly simple lifestyle."
"It took me an age to get into it," he says. "It's the period, just walking into the office and pouring yourself a drink at 10, bonkers. Roger is so deadpan, he delivers his lines brilliantly."
You wonder whether O'Driscoll would have preferred to have been cast in rugby's version of 'Mad Men'; the zany amateur days of heavy drinking and smoking. "I wondered where you were going with this," he smiles before adding seriously, "No. I'm glad to have played the game as it is now."
And the people are glad to have watched the man play. Always worth waiting for.
- BRIAN O'DRISCOLL was speaking at the Lifestyle Sports adidas Trainer Scrappage Scheme, which allows people to trade in their old runners and help the Chernobyl Children's Charity at the same time. For more see