Tuesday 28 March 2017

Living the moment: D'Arcy earns just reward

Gordon D'Arcy is showing signs of being back to his best after battling back from a serious forearm injury Photo: Getty Images
Gordon D'Arcy is showing signs of being back to his best after battling back from a serious forearm injury Photo: Getty Images

A few years back, Gordon D'Arcy told a story from the 2004 Six Nations campaign which truly launched the Ireland centre upon the world stage. It was at once a parable that explained as much about the then Ireland assistant coach Declan Kidney's persona, as it did about his own.

"How do you deal with all this attention?" D'Arcy recalls asking Kidney. "In his unique schoolteacher way," says D'Arcy, "Declan replied: 'Well, Gordon, there's an easy way to figure out who's who.

'How many of these were ringing you to say hard luck when you weren't selected for the World Cup in Australia?'"

He only turns 30 next Wednesday, but Wexford's own rugby superstar D'Arcy, who wins his 44th cap tomorrow 11 years after his first, has learned to sift through the flotsam and jetsam of an entire adulthood spent in the public eye.

And he has had enough extraordinary vacillations during his decade-long career to acknowledge the subtleties expounded by his Grand Slam-winning coach-cum-philosopher.

Only last summer, he reeled back in horror when a journalist's telephone call posed a question that had initially been keyed into a laptop in a doped-up bedsit, but was now spinning around the world wide web.

Was Gordon D'Arcy's career over?

D'Arcy, who had enjoyed the two best seasons of his career, had shattered his right forearm while awkwardly tackling Italian centre Andrea Masi in Croke Park in February 2008.

What should have been a simple six- week stint in casualty ultimately extended into 11 months. What should have required one surgical procedure -- if any at all -- required three in total.

When he returned, you pressed him on the agony, despite knowing this wasn't one of those sports people who often spend hours wallowing in every minute details of gut-wrenching comebacks from injury.

Not 'Darce'. "Ah Dave, I don't want to focus on hearsay or stuff I've no control over," he said this time last year. Such introspection may seem strange within the often very public Irish professional rugby circuit.

Strain

But then you remember a chat before the 2005 Lions tour, after another season had been lost to a hamstring strain sustained against -- who else? -- Italy. Brian O'Driscoll had succumbed to the same ailment on the same afternoon.

Yet when D'Arcy subsequently failed to recover as formidably as the then Lions captain, sceptics sneakily whispered that he had mentally bottled his recovery; they sniped once more when a subsequent comeback attempt faltered quite publicly in a Celtic League match against the Ospreys.

Even more scurrilous rumours would trail him on Clive Woodward's fateful trek to New Zealand; arguably D'Arcy's form hadn't merited inclusion, but nevertheless, he made a cast list which made a Cecil B DeMille set look like a nativity play.

Come the third Test, the Lions were mentally and physically battered. Reportedly, so was D'Arcy; at least, according to the variety of English spinners who sotto voce told the Paddy contingent of hacks that their boy had "bottled it".

The story was never confirmed or denied until Lions legend Fran Cotton resurrected it before last year's expedition to South Africa. "It shows a weakness," thundered the rugby dinosaur. "I don't care if he was tired or didn't think he was up to it. People dream of playing for the Lions in a Test match and he turned it down."

D'Arcy never spoke to Woodward subsequently and -- that introspection again -- contained his anger until the eve of his return to the red jersey against the Cheetahs last June.

"I nearly fell over when I heard that and I was very disappointed at the way it was channelled into the media. All I know, is I didn't pull out of any game."

D'Arcy has become better at handling the peaks and troughs, but it's been some learning curve. Until sent to Clongowes, D'Arcy had been a hurling nut, surfing the wave of his native county's intoxicating Riverdance under Liam Griffin.

Initially a hooker, he also played at out-half, before the avuncular Vinnie Murray, a schools coaching legend who sadly passed before his time, took him under his wing. A star was born.

Before he left school, Irish coach Warren Gatland wanted him to tour the southern hemisphere. He was a Leinster regular in his teens. By the end of the last century, he was sprinting from the bench in a World Cup against Romania.

Better

Then, as he has said himself, he began to think he "was better than everybody else, walking along with my head up my own ass". Matt Williams dropped him, he missed out on the 2003 World Cup. He could have walked away. But he didn't.

Gary Ella replaced Williams and D'Arcy flourished under Australian legend Glen's lesser known, but equally enigmatic, twin brother. Fate then played a hand.

Ella switched D'Arcy to outside centre, O'Driscoll got crocked for Ireland and the Wexford man grabbed his chance with gleeful hands. Ireland won a Triple Crown, their first in 19 years, and D'Arcy was named the player of the competition and was one of five nominees for world player of the year.

Two months later he went to South Africa, hoping to surf the restorative wave, but within 25 minutes of the first test, he was invalided out of the tour. Later would come the hamstring injury against Italy, D'Arcy crying in the snow down in Terenure College in front of Eddie O'Sullivan.

Such an image betrayed the simplistic caricature of someone lazily stereotyped as a Ross O'Carroll-Kelly clone. True, wearing trainers, emblazoned with the garishly written 'south' and 'side' didn't help.

However, rugby is his profession -- not his whole life.

Belatedly, last year's twin glories of Grand Slam and Heineken Cup were just rewards for durability under often harsh duress. Now D'Arcy is enjoying the liberation of just living in the moment.

Irish Independent

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