Long may he reign

O'Driscoll's return from injury offers fans an opportunity to appreciate a unique Irish hero

Des Berry

THERE is only so much even the greatest among us can absorb. Time takes everything away from sportsmen in the end.

The return of Brian O'Driscoll to Leinster is the promise of the renewal of a rock in the midfield and of his record-breaking career for Ireland as captain and try-scorer.

Perhaps this four-month lay-off has allowed his body to renew a sense of freshness and well-being that has been needed for some time.

It is true to say we will never see his like again. The once-in-a-generation Irish hero is back on the rugby treadmill, turning out for his beloved Leinster tonight in the first step towards the business end of the PRO12 League and Heineken Cup.

Beyond those, there is the career-long ambition to be part of the first ever Ireland team to beat the All Blacks at the 25th attempt at Eden Park on June 9 and in two subsequent tests.

This is the time to seize the hour, to take the opportunity to visit O'Driscoll at his place of work at the RDS tonight, Thomond Park next week, the Aviva Stadium on Saturday week and at other venues. You see, the time is coming when he will not draw cheers from the pit of our stomachs because, at 33, he will be there forever.

The four months of injury and rehabilitation that have removed O'Driscoll from our eyes have given the Irish public the breathing space to realise what has been missing through the Six Nations.

Would Ireland have stood back and admired Wales in those thrilling final few minutes at the Aviva? Or, would O'Driscoll have led the line of resistance and pushed up into their faces?

The absence of leadership then was filled by Stephen Ferris later in the Championship.

Ireland needed to ask their most ferocious forward to lead the line of defence like their warrior leader.

With great riches come great responsibilities.

Leinster coach Joe Schmidt has to be turning over many scenarios in his head.

In the past, O'Driscoll has admitted that it takes three or four matches at the beginning of every season for him to feel on top of his game.


At best, he will get an hour against the Ospreys tonight, maybe less than that. He knows better than anyone the shock to his system that full-on professional rugby will cause.

While he will be feeling his way back into contact and the quicksilver tempo favoured by Leinster, most of those around him will be razor sharp.

The theory goes that what he lost in caps for Leinster and Ireland in the last five months will be made up by what he will gain in the far end of his career. His body needed a break.

In recent interviews, O'Driscoll has talked about not limiting himself to an end date. He wants to play on as long as he can be useful to Leinster, to Ireland.

Long may he reign.