Tuesday 16 January 2018

Philosophical O'Driscoll shows heart of Lion to celebrate win

NIAMH HORAN

'We did it for Brian!' That was the message from Brian O'Driscoll's team-mates as they celebrated the Lions' victory over Australia in the crucial last Test in Sydney yesterday.

In the midst of it all, the rugby hero bounced his daughter Sadie in his arms. He spoke with intensity as he described his rollercoaster week in which he was dropped for the final match.

"The emotion of today sitting through it and not being there . . . but essentially it's about winning a series and being part of that. I'll always have it on my CV and that's what counts," he reasoned following the Lions' 41-16 victory.

The joy in his face was a sign to his army of fans back home to stand down – there were no hard feelings.

Back in Ireland, his supporters had spent the past week sharpening their pitchforks. Pictures of Warren Gatland's face next to former Anglo Irish Bank boss David Drumm were posted online with a message to the public to vote on which was "public enemy" number one.

In Sydney yesterday morning, his wife Amy Huberman received a photograph of a line of fans kitted out in the same number 13 jersey in support of the Irish centre.

Only one high-profile Irishman spoke out in defence of Warren Gatland's controversial decision. No one better than Ryanair's Michael O'Leary to go against the grain: "He's had two goes, he hasn't scored. You're a centre, what you there for? I don't care if they drop the whole lot of them [the Lions] as long as they win. I would have dropped O'Driscoll."

But his team-mates, like the rest of the nation, were fully behind him. Johnny Sexton spoke of his emotions following the victory: "I was so disappointed for him. I felt like I had been dropped myself. We wanted to win it for him and send him off in the best way possible."

The other man at the centre of it all, Warren Gatland, described the intense pressure that his decision left him under in the last 72 hours. And yet, as the final whistle blew, the coach wasn't seen jumping around in celebration with his two assistants. A commentator remarked that he was a man of little emotion.

But he told the Sunday Independent days before going on tour that he can only really enjoy his victory in private the following day when no one is watching. It takes that long for the weight and the stress of the build-up to lift off his shoulders.

"That's when I find myself jumping around on my own, a few fist pumps, maybe a whoopee," he said.

Unaware what was to come, he also spoke of how he deals with a storm of criticism when it seems like an entire nation has turned against him.

"You realise the people criticising you are very limited in their knowledge," he said, describing how he would put a media ban in the camp and surround the players with positivity.

"If you believe in yourself, and you can block out any negativity, then you can do it," he said, recalling an anecdote which involves four soldiers under sniper fire in the jungle.

He has recounted it to players through the years as a lesson in self-belief. He would have needed it last week.

As he met O'Driscoll on the pitch after yesterday's victory the two shrugged with open hands as the flashbulbs went off around them. Before drinking out of the trophy with a huge smile on his face – Brian was philosophical about the decision.

At the end of the day it was all about the game. Fans described his speech as "classy" and hailed him as "a true gent" for his grace at handling the bittersweet win.

Back home, Twitter exploded in praise and a few international stars had their say.

Footballer Joey Barton tweeted: "Legend is a word used way too much. He truly is one", while Jim Corr raised eyebrows when he drew comparisons between himself and the star player: "The Lions without Brian O'Driscoll is like if my sisters had a hit record without me. It's an achievement but it wouldn't feel the same."

The final word, however, was reserved for Piers Morgan, who summed up what everyone was feeling as they watched the player put the finishing touch on a stellar CV.

"Brian O'Driscoll – the greatest Lion of them all".

Irish Independent

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