Thursday 14 December 2017

Cave bids to step out of O'Driscoll's shadow

Darren Cave
Darren Cave
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

RARELY has a decision been welcomed with more joy and relief in Irish rugby.

Brian O'Driscoll's decision to continue playing put a smile on the face of most fans and, in particular, new Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.

Nobody stopped, however, to think of the other outside-centres who have been waiting to see the back of the man for whom the green No 13 jersey is effectively a trademark.

Darren Cave is one of those who admits he wasn't exactly joining in with the chants of 'one more year'. In another era the Ulster man might be in the midst of a stellar international career, but instead he has collected just three caps as well as non-cap appearances against the Barbarians and Fiji.

He has spent the past week in camp at Carton House preparing for the upcoming tour to the USA and Canada, well aware of the fact that two-thirds of his international appearances were made four years ago in similar circumstances. Bar an appearance off the bench in Auckland last summer, that has been it for a man who has more than a century of Ulster caps. It is not where he wants to be.

"If you had told me at the time that I was only going to play once since then, I wouldn't exactly have been buzzing with excitement," he says of the 2009 tour which saw Ireland beat the United States and Canada.

"It is interesting being here, in camp, all these years on and talking about goals. We won both the games on that trip, but I'm not sure if it could be considered an overly successful tour."

Cave is among a coterie of outside-centres 'waiting for BODot'. But the legend keeps going.

When O'Driscoll does finally take his bow, there will be a scramble for his shirt, but it can't be as difficult as trying to wrest it off his back while he is still playing.

While his international career remains in neutral, Cave has been part of the exciting wave at Ulster that has brought the northern province back to the top table.

However, he admits that he has been left frustrated by the fact that younger backs have emerged and been capped in the past year or two as he continues to tread international water.

"A lot of people have come in and done well in the last year, if you think of Craig Gilroy, Simon Zebo and Luke Marshall in the Six Nations," he said.


"I suppose, for someone like myself who has been around for a while, it can be hard to watch those guys come in. Unfortunately, in my position, there hasn't been an opening for a sustained period in a while. Sometimes it is tough to see the conveyor belt of young guys come in and jump straight past you."

Some players would reach for the phone and dial up a sports psychologist for advice, but given his background Cave has preferred to keep his own counsel, although he has received some words of stern wisdom from an illustrious source down the years.

"I have a psychology masters myself and I don't always agree with all of the mumbo jumbo psychology phrases that they use. It hasn't been something I've really looked at," he explained.

"I had a couple of very good chats with Ronan O'Gara when, maybe, I've come down to the Ireland camp and have been feeling sorry for myself. He's a good one for a quiet word/kick up the bum, you know?

"You can feel sorry for yourself and get nowhere or you can keep the head down, keep working hard and when the opportunity comes you take it."

Now, the mission is to make his three caps into five and impress Schmidt.

O'Driscoll may be continuing on for one more year, but the legendary former captain says that will be that. For Cave, it is about being in pole position when he's gone.

"Ach, for me as a professional rugby player I have just got to control what I can control. I can't control how long Brian plays for, I can't control how well he plays," he said.

"With the new management, there are massive opportunities for everyone to stake a claim. We want to win the games, but people want to be involved with Ireland going forward and that is what people are going to want to show."

Cave is back where he started, but the long wait for O'Driscoll to step aside appears closer to an end than ever. This tour is all about making sure he is in the right place to grasp that opportunity when it comes.

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