Brian O'Driscoll reveals what he misses most about rugby
Above all else, it’s the unspoken satisfaction shared with teammates in the aftermath of a hard-fought victory that Brian O’Driscoll misses most about rugby.
For Ireland’s greatest ever player, silverware, personal accolades and the adulation of thousands come a distant second to the camaraderie that can only be found within the rarefied confines of elite competition.
In the 15 months since he retired, the 36-year-old has had no direct involvement with the game and, either as a fan or media member, witnessed Ireland and Leinster - the teams he represented with such distinction - experience varying degrees of fortune.
The four-time Lion has enjoyed being a mainstay on BT Sports, Newstalk’s Off the Ball, and featuring in ITV’s World Cup coverage, though the void of collective elation has yet to be filled.
“I’m enjoying the punditry absolutely, but it’s not playing. Playing is the ultimate, and I was lucky enough to do it for a large part of my adult life; from 20-34,” he said at this week's Web Summit in the RDS.
“It’s impossible to replicate that. You cannot find that buzz of, not even running out in front of 80,000 people or necessarily winning trophies, it’s that sense of achievement in the dressing room afterwards, where you don’t really need to say anything.
“You know one another have rolled you sleeves up and really dug in, and you’re the only one, as much as your family, supporters and fans there have an appreciation for it, they don’t truly know what those 15 or 23 guys know.
“That’s a really unique and special feeling that’s hard to replicate. I’m not trying to replicate it, and it’s funny in the punditry side of things, I still get a great buzz out of a good production.
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“Knowing that I’ve added value to a show, or that the people at home will be a little bit the wiser for some of the knowledge you may have imparted on them,” he said.
He admitted being unsettled by the prospect of analysing the performances of friends and former teammates when first transitioning from player to analyst, but those doubts have subsided with repetition.
Speaking from experience, O’Driscoll knows that those at the top of professional sports accept the reality of having their abilities picked a part, as long it’s restricted to the field of play. And, above all else, that honesty is maintained.
The former centre certainly didn’t hold back on ITV when giving his thoughts on Ireland’s showing after beating Italy at the World Cup.
“The further you are removed from it the more comfortable you get from a pundit point of view,” he said.
“I started quite young in rugby terms as a 20-year-old, so a lot of my very good friends from rugby have retired before me, albeit I still have some good friends currently in the game and I still have to critique them.
“I think players never mind being critiqued on their performance; it’s when you start looking externally, at character assassination or extra-curricular things that you’re having a go at.
“That’s not really you’re business. You’re there to analyse how they’re getting on on a rugby pitch and give your opinion. It’s only one opinion, its not gospel, but I suppose the further I am removed from it, the easier it is to do that.
“I think you just have to be true to yourself. You can’t lie to people watching the game the same as you watched it; you have to be honest. It’s not always going to be a bed of roses what you’re going to say.”