Monday 23 October 2017

O'Driscoll deserving of 'best of the best' tribute

Will Greenwood explains what it's like to face Brian O'Driscoll

Brian O'Driscoll makes players do things they don't want to do. He sucks the air from around you like one of Voldemort's death-eaters.

Confusion reigns for this king of pain.

I used to get different levels of adrenalin before matches: relaxed, excited, nervous, and the final, nerve-jangling please don't let me look an idiot.

The last one I only ever really got against BOD. He always has a level of intensity, no matter if it is Leinster or Ireland, which is terrifying. He has a look that shows he wants to rip your head off. And trust me, for a self-acknowledged coward, there is nothing scarier than a psychotic, pasty Irishman setting his sights on you.

Even when I am not playing, he can haunt my thoughts. Ten minutes after the Heineken semi-final three weeks ago, I was in a TV studio when our host, Simon Lazenby, nonchalantly threw the line that "O'Driscoll is the greatest rugby player Ireland has ever produced."

So, I threw three names straight back at the slightly stunned TV anchor.

What about Mike Gibson, Willie John McBride and Fergus Slattery? The names sprung from my lips without a millisecond of thought -- you can't allow an anchor to turn these men to also-rans without an argument.

But as easy as it was to defend them, it also got me thinking. I love a list. It's just that the more I kept mulling it over, the more I kept coming back to O'Driscoll.

I never saw Willie John play apart from in old Lions footage. Mike Gibson has my father talking in hushed tones about his skills. Fergus I remember from my childhood as the wild crazy man, hunting down Englishmen.

O'Driscoll, however, I have seen up close. I have felt the full force of his power, seen the sheer acceleration a yard from me, and seen his eyes, nose to nose, when they are ready for battle.

Over the past 20 years, I have been lucky to go up against, watch or play with some special men. Tim Horan was special, Jeremy Guscott magical, Frank Bunce magnificent, Tana Umaga the leader, Stirling Mortlock so brave, Scott Gibbs immense, Yannick Jauzion so graceful.


But, no matter what I do, I still keep trying to find the best of the best and I keep coming back to O'Driscoll. I can never get away from his rawness in terms of emotion, strength and speed.

I now feel silly for throwing names back at Lazenby. How can I doubt O'Driscoll's greatness on the say-so of my old man, and the evidence of a few videos, stories and hazy memories?

I must go on what I have witnessed, and the simple, unarguable fact that when it matters, Brian delivers.

That has to be the mark of greatness (my biggest regret in rugby will always be tearing my ankle ligaments the week before the first Lions Test in 2001, and being forced to watch BOD score that try from the stands, rather than alongside him).

No matter what state he finds himself in, he also always finds the answers.

The hit he made on Danie Rossouw in the second Test in South Africa in 2009 was bigger than the Gibbs effort on Os du Randt in 1997.

Rossouw had just entered the field and is a known enforcer from the back-row and was on his home ground.

O'Driscoll dispatched him whence he came. Brian also crippled himself, but there was never a thought of self-preservation.

He leads, I am told, with inspirational words, and more importantly with inspirational deeds. A hat-trick in Paris as a kid makes him immortal in my eyes.

Even after all these years, the hunger burns bright.

When he is challenged he responds. Whether it is the bloodless beating he dished out to Austin Healey in a Manly hotel lobby in 2001, or in a semi-final against Toulouse three weeks ago when he tried to apologise to team-mates for a yellow card and scored the winning try.

He is not afraid to speak his mind and was happy to be rude about England after beating us in 2004. I have not forgotten his speech when he spoke of "so- called world champions in a so-called fortress".

He has weaknesses. You could pick him up with the left-hand pass or the overuse of the boot. In the end, though, the negatives are meaningless because he carries the true mark of greatness, and that is his ability to change a game at the highest level.

A few people can do it occasionally; to manage it over a decade is miraculous.

And for that fact alone, no matter how many names will be hurled at me, I am happy to say that this lad from Dublin is Ireland's best ever player. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

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