'You can say it without having a character assassination. There are plenty of ways to skin a cat'
Brian O'Driscoll reveals to Ruaidhri O'Connor that he's ready to embrace the challenge of punditry, family life and 'Christmas spirit' in next phase of his life
Published 23/07/2014 | 02:30
High summer is upon us and the sun is splitting the stones, yet a part of Brian O'Driscoll's mind is already drifting towards Christmas.
Usually at this time of year, mentions of the festive period are confined to the attic and ill-timed re-runs of American sitcoms, but the legendary, now former, Ireland centre is contemplating getting into the spirit for the first time in more than a decade.
He is in the early stages of what he so poignantly termed "the after-life" last spring when he contemplated the final months of a glittering career.
Having hung up his boots for the final time after the Pro12 final, the 35-year-old has been enjoying spending more time with his daughter Sadie and getting the chance to "do some stuff that otherwise I wouldn't have been able to" – like attend the tennis at Wimbledon.
By the time Christmas rolls around, Ireland will have played three more Tests without him and he will have begun his new career as a pundit and media personality. The after-life will be in full swing.
The announcements about his future have come steadily since he was forced off in the early stages of the win over Glasgow Warriors, with BT Sport the latest to add him to their stable of analysts ahead of the Rugby Champions Cup campaign.
Given the broadcaster's predilection for hosting their coverage from pitch-side, it will give rugby's most capped player a chance to keep a hand in the game without the commitment of day-to-day club involvement.
It will also give him a chance to enjoy life outside the bubble, without straying too far from it.
"Yeah, it's good," he enthuses about retirement thus far. "You know, I'm settling into it okay.
"Up until Monday it wasn't any different to any other year, but then all the boys went back into pre-season and I didn't but, yeah, it's been fine.
"I've enjoyed my time off, I've been able to do some stuff that otherwise I wouldn't have been able to, spent some time with my little one... so it's been good."
One expects pre-season is the part the ex-player misses least, that the rough and tumble of game time is when the angst will kick in.
"So everyone is telling me," he shrugs.
"I guess I'll just have to wait to see when that does happen. I'm not dreading (the season) either.
"It is nice knowing in your heart of hearts that it was the right call to make, I'm not disappointed with that and now I'm ready to move on with the next phase of my life.
"I might miss the big games, but I won't necessarily miss some of the away trips, when it gets wet in the Celtic League at Christmas time and you have to go away and miss out on what everyone else gets to do.
"Being in town, getting into the Christmas spirit is something I'm looking forward to, but at the same time there will definitely be times when I will miss the big games, in the Aviva and the internationals.
"It is my opportunity to stay in rugby.
"I knew it wasn't going to be in a coaching role where I would be dictated by the team, I knew I needed to break away from that for a while.
"This felt like a good fit, where I was able to still have my say on the game, albeit from a neutral point of view.
"I'd like to think I still have a bit to offer the game and just to give people watching a little bit of insight into what players might be thinking at any given moment."
One challenge every player who moves into the media faces is calling games involving their former teams.
Given BT have first dibs on games involving English clubs and Leinster have drawn Wasps and Harlequins, it is inevitable that it won't be long until O'Driscoll will watch the men he went into battle with; this time holding a microphone in his hand.
Last week he made it clear that he would not take on a confrontational style a la Roy Keane but he insists he will not shy away from calling it as he sees it, although he may couch the negatives in a certain way.
"There's plenty of ways to skin a cat and I'm not here as a pundit to try and lambast anyone.
"I'm here to try and give as impartial a view as I possibly can, albeit with my own province it will be a little more difficult," he explains of his philosophy on his new calling.
"At the same time, I want to, hopefully, impart a bit of knowledge to people at home watching the game. That's my role.
"I have listened to plenty of ex-players commenting on rugby over the years and the guys that I respect, guys who I would have heard commenting on my performances are guys like Tim Horan, who says it as it is.
"Where I may not have had one of my best games, you can say it without having a character assassination on me.
"I think any player knows when they've gone well or haven't gone well, it's just about how it is delivered. There are lots of different ways that you can do that."
The game moves on relentlessly, of course, and by the time O'Driscoll reports for analysis duty the competition he worked so hard to win three times in the last five seasons will have undergone a makeover.
Gone is the Heineken Cup and the Rugby Champions Cup, its replacement, will be even harder to win, with the last champions of the old tournament, Toulon, favourites to win the new one for the first time.
"Straight up, looking at the pool matches it looks more difficult to get out of your pool," O'Driscoll says of his first impressions of the new European competition which has been reduced in size to 20 teams from 24.
"I think that adds more prestige to the competition.
"The Heineken Cup is going 17 or 18 years and it grew year on year and I'd imagine it will take a little while after its inception for this completion to grow too.
"I do think that a team that beats Toulon will certainly be in the mix, certainly a finalist. That's how good they are at the moment; they just have a clear picture as to how they play the game.
"It's a new competition but it's still Europe and you'd have to anticipate that Munster are going to be in the mix again, they have a bit of a love affair with Europe. You'd hope that Leinster will be close to where they've been over the last few years, up challenging.
"Ulster, you know, it's a big year for them after losing some of their big players, then their director of rugby and their coach. People would probably ask questions of them and it will be very, very interesting viewing to see how they answer them."
This season, it will be O'Driscoll asking the hard questions and looking to provide those answers. He'll have his Christmas, but he'll have to get used to life on the other side of the touchline first.
- Brian O'Driscoll will feature as a pundit on BT Sport which is distributed in Ireland as part of the Setanta Sports package. Setanta Sports subscribers in the Republic of Ireland can view 35 live matches of the newly formed European Rugby Champions Cup, including the final, on BT Sport through the Setanta Sports package. Customers can subscribe to Setanta Sports for €19.99 per month. For more information visit www.setanta.com