Wednesday 17 January 2018

We have all been touched by the great hand of BOD

O'Driscoll rises to the occasion as nation bids its farewell to a legend

Brian O'Driscoll on the pitch with his daughter, Sadie, and (inset) with his wife Amy Huberman
Brian O'Driscoll on the pitch with his daughter, Sadie, and (inset) with his wife Amy Huberman
Amy Huberman and her daughter Sadie
Amy Huberman and her daughter Sadie
Amy Huberman and her daughter Sadie at the match
Evan Giblin and Emma Kennedy
Jackie Rafter and Gayle Killilea
O'Driscoll after the match.


So it was "Ciao, BOD", yesterday – the ending of an era, a golden age, as he played his last home game for Ireland against Italy.

And it was a sweet goodbye full of intense emotions in front of a sellout Aviva Stadium that rose as one to pay a final salute to our greatest rugby player.

Watched from the stands by his wife Amy Huberman and little charmer Sadie, it was a fitting finale in front of the Irish rugby faithful.

Who could sum up his qualities best?

Well Cometh the hour, cometh the Taoiseach. . .

Enda Kenny said: "Probably the best tribute that can be paid to Brian O'Driscoll is that he never took his supreme talents for granted. He worked tirelessly in the service of the green jersey and thrilled us all countless times doing so.

"But the end comes to all sporting greats – from Borg to Blanco. It is appropriate that Brian is ending his career on his own terms, because that's how he played the game."

The Irish diaspora in their millions watched O'Driscoll's final hurrah for home and heartland on tellies all over the world as Ireland romped home 46-7 .

And our hero in green didn't disappoint, supplying a masterclass, chief among them three classy passes for the tries in what turned out to be an easy win.

It was touched by the hand of BOD. It was a great afternoon to be Irish.

And there is one final day to savour this great man. Paris in the spring in just six days' gives O'Driscoll a chance to bring more silverware into retirement.

Unlike the bold Cuchulainn, the warrior O'Driscoll wasn't mortally wounded by a magical spear – or even by a ferocious spear tackle. He simply walked off the field after 60 minutes. The stadium stood in unison and cheered and clapped.

Known to the Irish nation and posterity as BOD, he has the object of lionisation and idolisation on a scale that would have embarrassed Louis XIV. Yet he was still gracious enough to make last week all about the team.

You can see why Ronan O'Gara regaled his friend and former teammate as a "special player" with great days ahead of him.

"It would be rude of me not to mention the chants from the stands of 'one more year'," Brian told Newstalk last September when he announced he would be retiring from rugby.

"The fact that you're still wanted by the faithful does mean an awful lot too."

It was obvious from the crowd going into the Aviva before the game that he was not only still wanted but very much loved.

"I think why Brian is so loved because it is like he is one of us," said Patrick White outside the Clyde Court Hotel.

In the Lansdowne Hotel and Searsons pub, Upper Baggot Street, and in the watering holes all along the roads in Ballsbridge, the good-spirited frolics, singing and badinage was de rigeur.

"It will be sad to see Brian retire but he has always done us proud," Ray Donoghue said in Searsons, as hundreds of fans in green were revved up for the game.

The excitement seemed as real as the bruises on the Irish players' battered bodies after the Italian game – not least Johnny Sexton's chest after that late tackle he endured when he scored that try after seven minutes.

"Brian has been a great ambassador, not just for rugby, but for Dublin and Ireland," Trevor White said as he went into the stadium, adding: "He will be missed."

The mood was almost pure fin-de-siecle – the end of something great in Irish sporting and even cultural life.

The Clyde Court was a hub of rugby related excitement. There were hundreds of Irish fans in green jerseys and the odd Italian fan in Roman gladiator helmet.

In the lobby of the swish establishment, there was a DJ blasting Bon Jovi and The Sawdoctors tunes, vendors selling hotdogs and burgers for €7.95, pints being sold by the truckload to the faithful as they prepared to head to the match down the road, It was like a Christy Moore song.

Watching the rugby when you're Irish is as much about drinking, socialising and tribal interaction as it is about roaring on the boys in green.

It is also an emotional experience. Depending on how many pints of the dark stuff you've had, the communion of the Ireland rugby match borders on more than sport.

Nearly all the talk was of BOD retiring. And why not? This was perhaps the greatest sports player that Ireland has ever seen.

Yet, as Mick Galwey, the iconic former Irish rugby captain, told me at the Ronan O'Gara charity gala event in the Hilton in London a few weeks ago: "What Joe has brought to the team is something special. It is a new era in Irish rugby."

We may, if we are lucky, see another Irish rugby player who is as good as Brian O'Driscoll one day in the future, but we're unlikely to see one who is better.

King Drico is dead! Long live the King!

Sunday Independent

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