Thursday 23 November 2017

O'Driscoll appreciates 'over the top' praise but says he was 'lucky'

Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll carries Rob Kearney during squad training ahead of their side's Six Nations match against Italy.
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll carries Rob Kearney during squad training ahead of their side's Six Nations match against Italy.

The canonisation of Brian O'Driscoll is already well under way, but the man himself cannot abide all the "over the top" tributes.

Iconic Ireland centre O'Driscoll will retire in the summer, after 15 glittering years atop world rugby's pinnacle.

Fergus McFadden hailed the 35-year-old as Ireland's greatest-ever sportsman in the autumn, while captain Paul O'Connell believes O'Driscoll has single-handedly transformed Irish rugby.

Head coach Joe Schmidt admitted he has little idea how O'Driscoll has amassed so many international appearances, on the cusp of setting a new Test caps world record when he surpasses George Gregan's 139 against Italy on Saturday.

Ever the dutiful team servant, O'Driscoll has almost made an art form of eschewing praise: but such humility only further enshrines the myth.

As far as the Leinster stalwart himself is concerned, he is not the Messiah, just a very lucky boy.

"Of course it's over the top," said O'Driscoll of the myriad accolades.

"I think I was very lucky I came in at a time when there was great young talent coming through.

"You see the guys that began around the same time, like Gordon D'Arcy who is still here.

"So I didn't make anything happen, we all did.

"Ronan O'Gara, Peter Stringer, Shane Horgan, Simon Easterby, John Hayes: they all came within six months of my first cap.

"I think we all had a big say in guiding expectation levels first of all, but performance after that, to a place where we feel it should be.

"Now the onus is on every younger guy coming through, seeing that is the benchmark, to carry that on into the future."

This time last year O'Driscoll very nearly called it all a day, even believing himself he was in the throes of his final Six Nations.

Then Leinster boss Joe Schmidt stepped up to the international arena, and O'Driscoll decided to drag his battered body through the wringer one more time.

O'Driscoll in effect completed much of the mourning on his career last season, but even despite clarity of mind and emotion, he admits he is still finding it extremely hard to let go.

As professional rugby's brutality rises apace though, the quick-witted outside centre knows he must finally find some regard for his personal well-being.

"I'm absolutely not sick of any of this, the whole experience, it's still incredible," he said.

"The head is still willing, just the body not as much.

"I want to get out of the game relatively unscathed, and I think now is the time to do it, at the end of this year.

"I haven't bored of answering questions, signing autographs, training hard and doing all the work, any of it.

"I'd go on for another dozen years, it's simply that age does catch up on you: physically you can't do what younger guys can do.

"That's just the life of a rugby player, there's other sports you can manage well into your 40s, but rugby's not one."

O'Driscoll weaved his name into world-rugby folklore by threading his way through Australia's defence on the British Lions tour of 2001.

The tactically-savvy midfielder had already assured his Irish annals entry with a superlative hat-trick in Paris a year earlier.

Few will fret at his claim that "in a few years no one will remember me", but anyone with sympathies for strategy will be just as concerned as O'Driscoll for the future of the game's creators.

Rugby's ever-increasing speed and power threaten the very existence of the game's great schemers, O'Driscoll admitted.

"The game is getting more and more physical, very power-orientated, so maybe there's not as much opportunity for guys of my size and D'Arcy's size," he said.

"But at the same time I'd like to think that there's always going to be a place for good thinkers in the game, and they'll be able to adapt to situations when the game modifies slightly.

"And that's what some of us have had to do, and the game will be vastly different in 10 years again.

"How it's going to change that much it's hard to know, but it will.

"We'll look back on old footage of this weekend and think 'God they had it easy back in 2014'."

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