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Dempsey vies to play part in few more fairy tales

Girvan Dempsey is more at home wearing a cloak of humility than one of adulation. Always has done; nothing has ever changed.

It says something about the acclaim in which Girvan Dempsey is held that already close to the maximum of 400 guests will cram into the Berkeley Court (D4 Hotels) on Friday next to honour the playing career of Terenure College's most decorated alumnus.

Two charities close to Dempsey's heart, the Irish Cancer Society and Crumlin Children's Hospital, will be the chief beneficiaries of the night.

"I think every family in Ireland has been affected by cancer and my family is no different, while the staff in Crumlin were very good to my wife Anne-Marie and I during our son Peter's stay there when he was six weeks old."

It will be a special night even if "the speech", as he puts it, "is giving me the feeling of wedding speech nerves all over again."

If further proof was needed of his value to Irish rugby then when news of Rob Kearney's recent unfortunate injury emerged and the reality sunk in, a collective sigh of relief would engulf various sectors of the rugby community.

Of course, Keith Earls and Geordan Murphy were reputed to be in the frame to assume the No15 shirt by virtue alone of their inclusion in the Six Nations panel, but if a cool, calm head and an unflappable disposition in the melting-pot that is Twickenham was required, Girvan was the man.

Same as it ever was.

The calls for a recall flooded in, despite the fact that Dempsey won the last of his 82 international caps in November 2008. The sentiment is something of a double-edged sword for Dempsey.

"Of course it's nice to be still thought of and it's nice that some people still hold me in regard", the 34-year-old revealed earlier this week.

"At this stage in my career I still have ambitions to represent Leinster and if anything else were to happen with Ireland, then great. I certainly haven't closed the door on an international return.

"But, first and foremost, I want to keep on training hard and trying to play well for Leinster. It was frustrating to miss out on the two games over the New Year period because of the weather, but these things happen.

"It was frustrating that the games against Connacht and Glasgow were postponed because all you're doing then is training without having an opportunity to impress in a match environment.


"The key for Leinster at this time of the year is to keep on moving up the Magners League table. We have a block of three really important games coming up and, in a sense, we're in the knockout stages of three important competitions: the British and Irish Cup, the Magners League and the Heineken Cup."

In fact, Dempsey's hunger for matches prompted his inclusion in the province's recent victory over the Exeter Chiefs, thus fulfilling the dual function of giving senior players much needed game time and also enabling some of the up-and-coming players in the Academy with much needed exposure to the professional game.

"Match sharpness and match fitness are entirely different to normal sharpness and fitness, so it was great to get a chance to play in the Exeter game alongside the likes of Shaun Berne, Mal O'Kelly, Mike Ross and Stan Wright," he said.

"Aside from the quality of the opposition and the excellent facilities in Sandy Park, it was great to see at first hand some of the talented players who are coming up the ranks."

While that afternoon in the southwest of England afforded Dempsey a chance to glimpse into the future of Irish rugby, it was a venue 165 miles to the east of the country where Dempsey's influence was best felt.

So, to Twickenham and the scene of arguably Dempsey's finest hour in a green shirt, in 2004 when Ireland won 19-13. It was a fairy-tale moment, the stuff of schoolboy dreams. The winning try against the World Cup champions, in their own backyard and against all the odds.

"We were written off all week in the press, saying that we were going to get a hiding, and the memories of that afternoon are so vivid. It's like it was yesterday.

"We had the belief, the confidence and the game plan to beat them, and there was no pressure on us because no one expected us to win. To get that try was so special; one of the great moments of my career."

His performance in the 28-24 victory, immortalised by Shane Horgan's last-minute try, two years later was another shining moment in his career.

Alas, though not there physically tomorrow afternoon, emotionally he will be giving the team every ounce of support as they bid to get their Six Nations campaign back on track.

"I think the lads will be well up for it after the disappointment of Paris. They will look to approach the game in a positive manner and that sense of confidence will build all week in training.

"The squad know what to expect there and, for me, the set-piece will be crucial. If Ireland can gain dominance in the scrum and lineout then that will go a long way to helping us secure the win.

"The back three will be in for a busy afternoon, but it will be important to return the pressure back on them. No doubt, the Irish supporters will be heard, as they always are."

And they will be heard again loud and clear next Friday to honour a true champion of the province.

Same as it ever was.