O'Driscoll answered destiny's every call
Published 19/01/2010 | 05:00
It was Vince Lombardi, that wizened sports sage whose advice so often transcended his limited field of Gridiron, who reminded us that "perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence".
It is no coincidence that Ireland's greatest sporting ambassadors have retained an inextricable fidelity to Lombardi's tenet, none more so than the latest addition to the stellar collection of Irish Independent/Croke Park Hotel Sportstar of the Year, Brian O'Driscoll.
His selection is not merely a representation of the extraordinary levels he continually aspires to, and the expectations he so often exceeds.
It is also a reflection of how valued he is by you the readers, the popular prism through which his wondrous achievements have been absorbed and celebrated throughout a 2009 which rarely harboured news stories to make one smile.
Ireland's historic Grand Slam and Leinster's Heineken Cup were, of course, team triumphs and last night's winner was the first to deflect the paeans of praise and insist that his was a reward shared by all who toiled with him.
And yet when one reflects, as the readers have done, on achievements that marked a year of unprecedented success in Irish rugby, it is difficult to eradicate the searing image imprinted upon the events by the imposing figure of Ireland's greatest ever exponent of the game.
Whether it was racing home a 70-yard intercept try with renewed vigour and more trustworthy hamstrings in Rome, or impudently burrowing beneath a stout English pack from an impossibly tight angle close to the line, O'Driscoll's interventions were clearly identifiable in their genius and timing.
When destiny rapped its knuckles on the door throughout this extraordinary season -- who can forget the almost inhuman physical energy expended during the Lions series? -- O'Driscoll answered every time.
And still he remained one of the world's best defenders. Within Ireland's defensive system, he thrived on the responsibility.
He was at once warrior and wizard. Against a rampaging, violent England at Croke Park, he survived ruthless assaults from Riki Flutey and Delon Armitage before authoring that close-in, clinching try.
That O'Driscoll was still replicating the feats of Paris 2000 and the Gabba 2001, arguably still his finest moments in Irish green and Lions red, owed much to his courage and his maturity.
O'Driscoll's success rate as Ireland captain stands at 70pc -- 39 wins out of 56 -- and yet even though he had led his country from the age of 23, before 2009 O'Driscoll would have admitted that his career was largely unfulfilled in terms of honours annexed.
Three Triple Crowns and two Celtic League medals didn't seem to aptly represent the high watermark of a career that had been launched so impressively with an U-19 World Cup triumph in 1998.
His captaincy of the Lions in 2005 and the World Cup 2007 had ended in premature injury and ejection respectively; both stages had deserved to see much more of his talents. Those who remembered the gambolling youth from the UCD Bowl wondered, as an underwhelming 2008 segued into 2009, whether he could reclaim his pre-eminence in the world game.
O'Driscoll admits he did so himself. Thankfully, the answer would swell all with unlimited pride.
Sated with domestic bliss, O'Driscoll abandoned the pretence that bulk was better and, trusting his battered and bruised body more than in recent years, concentrated on the things that he was good at.
A sports psychologist helped him to shatter the fog of confusion from his mind. His hunger renewed by new Irish management, and liberated by the decision to step down as Leinster captain, O'Driscoll was able to free himself from the shackles.
In doing so, he leaped joyously into all of your lives in 2009, a year like no other for player and country. Can we dare to dream that 2010 can even come close to matching the highs of last year?
With BOD on our side, anything is possible. Even on the rare occasions when falling shot of perfection, he revels in the chase. And having just recently completed eye surgery, his goals will be now clearer than ever before.