Wednesday 16 October 2019

O'Driscoll's firm deadline on retirement a smart move

David Kelly

David Kelly

Just as it may not have been much of a surprise that Brian O'Driscoll convinced himself that he wanted to play on, it should also not come as a shock that he will limit the swansong to the "one more year" called for in the chant beloved of his Leinster supporters.

The emotional pull of the Irish sporting public may have helped to persuade the icon to continue in blue and green but, ultimately, it was O'Driscoll's private circumstances that have, understandably, influenced his decision to, firstly, commit to one more season and, ultimately, insist that the decision to retire next summer is final.

There were clearly extraneous factors which prompted him to commit – a not undignified contract offer from his paymasters combined with the prospect of aligning with Joe Schmidt, the self-confessed best coach he has ever worked with, at international level following three years of unprecedented provincial success.

But the primary concern centres upon his personal situation – marriage to an actress whose profession could, conceivably, transport her to another continent for weeks at a time, and the consequences that may have in the light of the recent addition of a daughter to the O'Driscoll household.

And, while there remains certain professional goals to be achieved – a Lions tour success, another Six Nations title with Ireland, the international caps record, a maiden win against the All Blacks – these recede in relevance compared to maintaining a balance in terms of quality of life.

The wildly optimistic prospect of O'Driscoll lining out at a fifth World Cup, so tantalising given that the 2015 event takes place in England and Wales, was rendered void when the 34-year-old analysed the ramifications of such an over-arching goal.

While it may seem simple to extend his career by another year, O'Driscoll is conscious that such an obligation would incorporate three pre-seasons – 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Though he concedes that he is physically not feeling the rigours at this stage of his career, despite another season of toil that would have felled most warriors, committing himself to such an onerous undertaking would be a bridge too far. Even for someone of O'Driscoll's indomitable spirit.

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As Paul O'Connell has highlighted to this newspaper, O'Driscoll remains entirely committed to province and country, and to working with a new breed of hungry, enthusiastic young professionals.

The desire to remain on in a potentially exciting new dawn for Irish rugby tugged at his heartstrings but, having been harassed all season about his plans, it is undeniably wise for him to firmly plant a bottom line to his career.

Otherwise, there would be another season of endless speculation and, with Schmidt likely to keep Jamie Heaslip as captain, O'Driscoll clearly prefers to remove himself from the centre of every discussion. Removing himself from the centre of Irish rugby's universe was always going to be a difficult decision; few sports stars get the chance to leave when and how they want.

"Hopefully next year the head will want to give up because the body is not going to become that of a 20-year-old any time soon," he says.

Mercifully, his wise head has dominated his stout heart. By attempting to clarify his options at this early stage, O'Driscoll can afford to eke out every last sinew of his being to extract the maximum from the limited time he has left in rugby.

It is the very least he, and most importantly his new family, deserves.

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