D'Arcy puts it on the line for Leinster
HE'S nearing the end of another long, gruelling season, but Gordon D'Arcy is radiating enthusiasm, energy and anticipation as he heads into the last couple of months of a near year-long slog.
Indeed, the 32-year-old is the picture of contentment and has every reason to be, a few days after helping Leinster into their third Heineken Cup final in four seasons and securing a deal to keep him at the province for another two years.
D'Arcy's was the marquee announcement among Leinster's spate of contract confirmations this week and his delight stems from the straightforward nature of the process -- the Wexford man's assertion is that his primary desire is to represent his native province for as long as possible.
Leinster, if they can overcome Ulster in the May 19 final, are on the cusp of being affirmed as the most powerful European force in Heineken Cup history and D'Arcy's appreciation stems from a 14-year involvement and excitement at what this group can go on to achieve.
Given the challenging circumstances in Bordeaux, Sunday's epic semi-final win over Clermont has been classified as Leinster's greatest, but D'Arcy is not about to forget what went before.
He remembers back to the early days of professionalism in the mid-to-late 1990s, when the Irish provinces struggled to find their feet, and believes the two Heineken Cup titles since 2009 and prospect of a third in three weeks' time reflect a gradual and steady rate of progression.
"There have been different groups of players with whom we probably achieved more with not quite as developed a squad," said D'Arcy. "Some of those wins we had years and years ago were up there with any of the Leinster achievements and have helped build the foundation for the current squad. This team is building on that again and setting the standard for the future.
"I was talking to (1990s captain) Chris Pim about when he was playing and about the standards they had and the transitional period that Leinster went through. We're really starting to put those high standards back in place and put them into really important games."
It was D'Arcy who made the tackle on Wesley Fofana which proved to be the difference between victory and defeat on Sunday, doing just enough to unsettle the Clermont centre into spilling the ball when a try seemed certain and he modestly puts it down to luck as well as intent.
"I just took a step forward and literally hit him as hard as I could. I drove into the tackle with my shoulder and he sort of wriggled out of it," he recalled.
"I kind of saw the ball go loose, so I was thinking: 'Okay, we need a bit of good luck here.' I did 90pc right of what I could have done on the line, bar stopping him dead, which would have been some feat. I would have happily done it, but the odds were stacked against me there. I did everything I could -- and then I got 10pc luck."
Job done, D'Arcy and his team-mates are now gearing up to take on an Ulster side they will be heavily fancied to beat but will never take for granted with players of the quality of Ruan Pienaar, John Afoa and Stephen Ferris in their side.
A refusal to rest on achievement is an attitude D'Arcy says permeates the squad and he is encouraged to note that the younger players, a clutch of whom are expected to feature in this weekend's Pro12 trip to the Dragons, are imbued with the same philosophy.
"I just look at the guys in the academy and the quality and the standard that they have and look at the standards that the young guys in the senior squad have embraced," he said.
"Shane Horgan was talking about almost a Leinster DNA and the way that affects the younger guys. They actually relish the thought of playing for Leinster. I think it is a privilege for them and they know they won't just get it (handed to them). There is no sense of entitlement, they have to earn it. I think all these things are hugely positive for Leinster."
A good news week for Leinster and, for D'Arcy, confirmation that Luke Fitzgerald is also staying with the province would round it off perfectly.