13 things you didn't know- or had forgotten- about Brian O'Driscoll
Published 09/03/2014 | 02:30
Saturday was an emotional day for Brian O'Driscoll – and the sport-loving public – as he ran out onto the Aviva Stadium turf for the final time.
The 35-year-old centre has had an extraordinary career for Ireland and Leinster and has been pivotal in helping to make rugby so popular in this country.
But his talents are such that even those who have never sat down to watch him in action, are likely to be aware of the acclaim in which he is held. He has truly transcended his sport – and sport in general.
Here – in deference to his famous playing number – we present 13 titbits from a life less ordinary.
1 He may have been mistakenly thought of as the inspiration for Ross O'Carroll Kelly in the past, but the notion that Brian O'Driscoll hails from rugby's southside Dublin heartland persists. O'Driscoll was born and bred in Clontarf in the northside of the city and barely played the oval ball game until he went to the celebrated rugby nursery, Blackrock College, from the age of 12. He is devoted to Manchester United and his boyhood hero was Mark Hughes. "I loved him for his temperament, his aggression, and the fact that he just couldn't score ordinary goals," he once said.
2 Despite an early fixation with football, O'Driscoll hails from a family steeped in rugby. His father, Frank, played two games for Ireland and an uncle, Barry, won four caps. But it was his other uncle, John, who really put the O'Driscoll name on the map: he represented Ireland 26 times and was a member of the Lions side who toured in 1980 and 1983. Frank is a GP based in Clontarf and has played an important role in managing his son's off-field deals. He has also been an outspoken critic of rugby's overly long season and pressures on concussed players to play on.
3 There is a story – possibly apocryphal – which has it that a member of the public once approached O'Driscoll to playfully point out that despite all his success on the global stage, he did not have a Leinster Schools Senior Cup medal. What is true is that O'Driscoll , left, never got to play in a final having been an unused replacement when Blackrock College won the competition in 1996. He captained the school the following year, only to be knocked out in the quarter finals. During his first year at UCD, future glories were signalled when he played in the Ireland team that won the U-19 World Cup.
4 O'Driscoll transcended his sport when he turned in an extraordinary performance against France in Paris in the inaugural Six Nations Championship. His hat-trick of tries remains a career highlight and put Ireland on the road to a resounding win against the French. After each score, he formed a circular symbol with his hands and although he remained coy about its significance, some speculated that it was intended for his girlfriend back home in Dublin. The performance at the Stade de France opened the marketing floodgates that would make O'Driscoll Irish rugby's pinup boy for the remainder of the decade.
5 While it was easy to understand O'Driscoll's appeal to companies of all hues, his willingness to accommodate the needs of sponsors saw him criticised by some – and pilloried by others. In 2004, during a post-match interview on RTÉ, he displayed an enthusiasm for taking swigs from a bottle of Powerade (one of his sponsors) that was mercilessly lampooned by pundit George Hook. And in a striking shoot for Adidas compression underwear around the same time, one tabloid reproduced an especially "revealing" photo under a headline which read "Does my bum look big in this?"
6 O'Driscoll followed in the footsteps of his uncle John when he was picked for the Lions tour of Australia in 2001. He furthered his cause as a player of rare skill when he scored a breathtaking try against the hosts. He would captain the Lions in their tour of New Zealand four years later, but his tournament lasted less than a minute when he was the victim of a cynical spear tackle at the hands of Tana Umaga and Kevin Mealamu. He bumped into Umaga in Nice in 2009 and the pair shook hands. "We didn't talk about it," O'Driscoll said at the time. "It was very much swept under the carpet."
7 O'Driscoll's short-lived 2005 Lions tour was also bad news for the publisher, Penguin, who had commissioned a book that would largely focus on the Dubliner's feats against the All Blacks. Nonetheless, A Year in the Centre was published later in 2005. A career-spanning biography, also commissioned by Penguin, is likely to be in the shops for Christmas 2014 but it has not been without its difficulties. Ex-pro cyclist Paul Kimmage, who had been working on the book for two years in a ghost-writing capacity, withdrew his services last month after irreconcilable differences. He has been replaced by Limerick Leader editor Alan English.
8 Brian O'Driscoll has been a voracious user of Twitter for several years and has more than 400,000 followers, including members of his beloved Man United. Although the bulk of his tweets adopt a cheerful, genial tone he is not afraid to use the social medium to hit out when he feels he has been wronged. A case in point happened on the days leading up to the Six Nations opener against Scotland when he expressed his anger at BT Sports and host Craig Doyle over a tweet sent from the UK broadcaster. He has also inspired innumerable hashtags. Two of the most popular this week are #bodisgod and #replacegodwithbod.
9 O'Driscoll's 2010 marriage to the high-profile actress and sometime author, Amy Huberman, has drawn lazy comparisons with David and Victoria Beckham. "People are clutching at straws for comparisons if that's the case," he has said. "Maybe it's because I did the stupid blonde thing a few years ago." Attempts by some showbiz reporters to give the pair the Brangelina-style portmanteau "Bramy" have failed to capture the public's imagination. O'Driscoll has had to get used to tabloid interest in his private life: a previous relationship – with the model-turned-TV presenter Glenda Gilson – ensured he was also a fixture on the front pages.
10 Much like those of the former-Man United icon Eric Cantona, O'Driscoll's words of wisdom have been picked over time and again. His most oft-quoted line was delivered at a press conference at Croke Park before an England match in 2009: "Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad." Yet, it turns out that these words had been given to him by the IRFU kit man Patrick "Rala" O'Reilly as a Quote of the Day. Gordon D'Arcy had wagered with O'Driscoll that he wouldn't be able to shoehorn a reference to it in the press conference. "It wasn't a monetary bet," he later told a journalist. "I can't tell you what it was for."
11 The aforementioned Rala is a highly popular figure among Ireland's top players and his recently published memoir, A Life in Rugby, lifts the lid on some of O'Driscoll's foibles – including a love of chocolate and fatty food that's usually prohibited for athletes on calorie-controlled regimens. O'Driscoll is known as something of a creature of habit – always the last player to call to Rala's hotel room at around 11 on the night before a match to collect his playing kit. "It's a chance to chat to Rala about something and nothing, listen to a story or nibble away on a piece of chocolate," he writes in A Life in Rugby. "That time in his company is very dear to me."
12 O'Driscoll has already demonstrated a prowess in business to rival his achievements on the pitch. His company, ODM Productions, recently reported profits of €3m. Besides his lucrative endorsements, he is a 45pc shareholder in the smartphone app, Ultimate Rugby, which he founded with Irish software tycoon Ray Nolan. He is also a significant shareholder of the Ikon Talent Management Agency, which negotiates deals on behalf of other stars including Jamie Heaslip and Cian Healy. "There have been a couple of things I've been involved in launching that have been a bit more public," he said, "but I've always had other things tipping away in the background."
13 With O'Driscoll hanging up his boots at the end of this season – unless he has a last-minute rethink – he will be able to spend more time with his daughter, Sadie, who was born in Holles Street, Dublin, in February, a few hours before the Six Nations Clash with England up the road in the Aviva Stadium. It was a bittersweet day for O'Driscoll, as Ireland lost the game. Later in the year, Sadie was taken to Australia for the Lions' last game, although it too was bittersweet: O'Driscoll found himself on a winning Lions tour for the first time, but he was controversially dropped by Warren Gatland , above, for the crucial decider.