Wednesday 13 December 2017

'Totally gutted' but brave Brian will bounce back

Laura Butler and Louise Hogan

LIONS fans from across the Ireland and the UK were united in their disbelief at Brian O'Driscoll's ignominious end to a Lions career that spanned four tours.

Warren Gatland's decision was brave to say the least, but even he could surely not have realised just how big the story would get.

BBC Radio Five Live dedicated it's mid-morning phone-in to the subject, with irate fans expressing disbelief, while Sky Sports News ran the shock story throughout the day, in an almost mournful theme.

O'Driscoll's biographer Paul Kimmage was stunned by the decision, as he, like almost everyone else, expected O'Driscoll to captain the Lions in Saturday's deciding test.

"I'm dumbfounded by it," said Kimmage who is ghost-writing the former Leinster and Ireland captain's autobiography.

"It is stating the obvious to say he is above all a team player and I expect he will be 100pc behind the squad."

O'Driscoll's former Ireland and Lions team-mate Keith Wood described it as a "terrible mistake".

Fans swiftly set up a 'Justice for BOD' campaign on Facebook, with over 22,000 people liking it within hours, while 'In BOD We Trust' was trending worldwide on Twitter.

But there is no question that the humiliation of Ireland's record try scorer will force a rethink of his decision to play for club and country for one more year, a close source told the Irish Independent.

O'Driscoll, surrounded by family, his wife, actress Amy Huberman, and baby Sadie, showed his strength of character as he admitted to being "totally gutted" at being left out of the squad for the crucial match on Saturday.

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However, he immediately pledged to help prepare the "boys to see it through".

His parents, Frank and Geraldine, travelled to support him and celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary on the trip; Ms Huberman said she was "massively proud" of him.

O'Driscoll had never previously been dropped during his professional career.

It was claimed yesterday that the last time he was left out of a rugby team was as a 17-year-old in his penultimate year at Blackrock College in Dublin, when he failed to merit inclusion in the team that won the Leinster Schools Senior Cup final.

He returned to captain the Blackrock team the following year; yesterday, however, he knew his Lions career was over.

Yet, even as the news caused shock among past and present rugby greats, O'Driscoll managed to set aside the heart-wrenching blow to take a training session at the Noosa Dolphins Australian rugby club and sign scores of autographs for young fans.

Many had expected O'Driscoll – on his fourth Lions tour – to captain the side for the series decider at Sydney's ANZ Stadium.

O'Driscoll's unceremonious dumping from the squad meant Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip's being dropped from the match squad almost escaped notice, as the shocking news spread as far as rural Dolo Ado, in south-western Ethiopia.

There, their Leinster teammates Leo Cullen and Ian Madigan, learnt of Gatland's decision as they visited a refugee camp with charity Goal.

"I assumed Brian would be captain," said Madigan. "I'm lost for words, to be honest, but I know the two lads will act like the gents and professionals they are and get on with helping the team win the series."

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