Wednesday 11 December 2019

Sinead Kissane: O'Driscoll has it all and losing the captaincy won't change a thing

'What was O'Driscoll's reaction?' It was the first question I asked Declan Kidney at yesterday's news conference after he revealed that Brian O'Driscoll would not captain Ireland in the upcoming Six Nations Championship.

Maybe it was the romantic in me. We don't know if O'Driscoll is in his final lap as a professional player. If it is, I wanted to see O'Driscoll lead Ireland for what could be his final Six Nations.

"Disappointed" was Kidney's response to my question.

Understandably, the Ireland head coach is looking to the future and that means a player like Jamie Heaslip. The Naas man impressed when he took over as captain for the November Tests and helped to create a feel-good environment in the Ireland camp. Kidney also wants to leave O'Driscoll to concentrate on his own game after a run of injuries.

Professional rugby is no doubt a ruthless game. But O'Driscoll has always seemed immune to it. "The first player on the team-sheet" is a well-worn comment when it comes to O'Driscoll throughout his Ireland and Leinster career.

But don't expect prima donna behaviour from O'Driscoll over the loss of this role. He expressed his disappointment in an IRFU statement but added he will give Jamie Heaslip all the support he needs.

Disappointment quickly translated to dignified. We won't see O'Driscoll cry into a statement in front of the media like David Beckham did when he announced he was stepping down as England captain in 2006.

No Golden Balls treatment here – but how the IRFU struck gold when O'Driscoll announced himself as a world class player.

No sportsperson in this country has been more responsible for growing the popularity of a sport than O'Driscoll.

He is one of the main reasons for the healthy state of rugby. With the flick of a wrist and the swerve of a hip, he brought rugby to the masses in Ireland. He seduced us with a raw talent that was beguiling to watch. He sexed up the image. More importantly, he firmly kicked to touch any idea of a 'give it a lash' attitude.

O'Driscoll not only changed the way we looked at rugby but he changed the way we looked at ourselves. While the Celtic Tiger was growing its paws, O'Driscoll was already purring. He asked questions that maybe we were afraid to openly question before. Why can't we go to France and win? 2000 in Paris showed the possibilities of that.

He was one of the first sportsmen in Ireland to cross into the social spectrum. His wedding to Amy Huberman in Leitrim was one of the social events of the year in 2010 with hundreds of fans gathering to share in their happiness.

It was another wedding that underlined O'Driscoll's standing outside of Ireland. His image as one of Ireland's top ambassadors was clear when he and Amy were invited to the Prince of Wales marriage to Kate Middleton in 2011. While wife Amy attended the wedding on her own, O'Driscoll was preparing to take down the aristocrats of European rugby, Toulouse, in the Heineken Cup semi-final the following day. And he and Leinster succeeded.

Why should losing the Ireland captaincy affect him? It didn't hurt him when he stood down as Leinster captain and Leo Cullen took over. It didn't hurt him either when he lost out on the Lions captaincy in 2009 to Paul O'Connell. He was one of the players of the tour in South Africa.

The biggest influence O'Driscoll has had on this country is the dreams he created for others. Role model doesn't do justice to O'Driscoll's standing in our society.

He has built a path for other budding rugby players all over the country to follow.

So how will O'Driscoll's react to losing the Ireland captaincy?

Like he always does. With a selflessness and commitment that it is all about the team. He is the em-'Bod'-iment of all that.

Sinead Kissane is a Sports Presenter and Reporter with TV3

Irish Independent

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