Sunday 19 November 2017

Back to reality after Baa-Baas day in sun

O'Driscoll sees promise in Reds' new generation

Mick O’Driscoll (centre) back in his playing days alongside his former Munster second-row partner Paul O'Connell (left) and David Wallace
Mick O’Driscoll (centre) back in his playing days alongside his former Munster second-row partner Paul O'Connell (left) and David Wallace
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

LAST Saturday, Mick O'Driscoll dusted off his studs, donned a pair of Cork Constitution socks and revisited his former life.

The former Munster and Ireland second row hung his boots up in May 2012, but when the call came to come to the Barbarians' rescue, he couldn't say no. Well, not after they rang him back a second time and told him they were "literally desperate" for a second-row.

So, he packed his bags and headed for London last Friday to take his place on the bench at Twickenham for the Baa-Baas as they trounced Fiji in the island nation's centenary match in London.

Some of the 67,319 fans had left when Steve Hansen convinced the 35-year-old to head on and join the likes of Keven Mealamu, Schalk Burger, Charles Piutau and his old Munster colleague Jean de Villiers for a few minutes at the end, but as addendums to careers go, it wasn't a bad note.

"I'm probably two stone lighter than I was when I retired, so I didn't want to be taking hits from those boys – they'd put me to sleep," he confessed.

"I was quite happy sitting on the bench to be brutally honest. It was a full Test match and Test rugby is tough going and it's certainly tougher going when you haven't played the game in 18 months or whatever. It was good craic though, it's kind of what the Baa-Baas are all about."

After a night out with some global superstars, it was back to reality this week, running his business, 'Home Instead,' and training the Con forwards as per usual.

COLLIDE

On Sunday, he will sit down and watch two major parts of his former life collide as Perpignan travel to Munster having featured in the last clash between the clubs.

Much has changed since the French champions ran Munster close at Thomond Park and were then beaten all ends up at home a week later, with O'Driscoll (right) one of a host of players who have moved on since.

A new generation have taken on the mantle and the former second-row sees promise.

"Hopefully, this group of players will stick together and become as dominant in Europe as we were," he said.

"It is going to take time, the fact that we're sitting top of the league at the moment is superb, but, at the end of the day, a lot of these guys don't have a huge amount of experience in Europe and, look, ultimately the European Cup is what it's all about.

"These lads are certainly going in the right direction. When Rob Penney came in, you had people moaning and complaining, he was in the door six months and you had the usual idiots out there calling for his head. It was ridiculous.

"Rob will be the first to admit he went through a difficult period, but they seem to have turned it around and are going well enough at the moment."

His loyalties will lie firmly with his home province this weekend, but the Corkman retains a strong affinity with Perpignan after his two seasons in Catalonia from 2003-2005.

"Perpignan was great, it was definitely a good move for me. I'd played 70 or 80 times for Munster at that time, but I wasn't playing in as many of the big games as I wanted to," he recalled, adding more young players should consider a move.

"If fellas have the opportunity, I think they should go. It certainly helped me as a player and it is ultimately good for Munster," he continued.

"I'm not saying it against the IRFU, but if I was involved higher up in the IRFU or the Munster branch, I'd be trying to get guys to move abroad for a year or two and bring them back. If a guy is on the fringes and isn't playing a lot of rugby, it is a good thing to do."

As Cork Con's forwards coach, he has experienced the other side of Irish rugby and believes that more young professionals should be allowed compete in the All-Ireland League, where clubs are limited in the amount of contracted players they can field.

"It is vitally important that the guys at home, who aren't getting much game time, are allowed to play club rugby, because a lot of the guys get pulled from games," he said.

"It's a shame, you know, because the AIL is a tough, tough league.

"I've spoken to guys like Donncha O'Callaghan about this – we did our time in the AIL and it made us better players.

"To allow a particular professional (clubs are permitted one back and one forward) play for a team in a Division 1A game and leave another guy who is with the same club sitting on his ass all weekend is not right. Simple as that."

The club involvement is now his hobby and getting to Munster games has been a casualty of time.

Between running his own business, spending time with his wife Alice and children Tom and Lucy and travelling around the country with Con, the former Munster lock has his hands full.

Life after rugby occupies the minds of this generation of professionals as they come to the end, but rather than stay in the game or head down the punditry route, O'Driscoll decided to go on his own, taking out a franchise with 'Home Instead,' a senior care company which he operates in Cork city and the north of the county.

"There are so many guys coming out and looking for commentating slots and that sort of stuff and I'd never any interest in it anyway," he explained.

"I was always interested in working for myself and franchising means you are still working for yourself, but you've a big team there too. It fits in nicely, you're your own boss and if you make it, you make it. It's as simple as that.

"You have to be realistic in these things and I probably picked the worst time to start a new business with the recession and all of that, but it's going well and it is just a matter of keeping that going."

Last weekend gave him a chance to step back into a former life, but from now on it's full steam ahead in the new one.

Irish Independent

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