Saturday 20 January 2018

Standards set by O’Driscoll and Cullen will echo through ages of Leinster lore

The Leinster team that Brian O'Driscoll and Leo Cullen leave behind has benefited from their service and has been shaped by their hands. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
The Leinster team that Brian O'Driscoll and Leo Cullen leave behind has benefited from their service and has been shaped by their hands. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Victor Costello

This weekend is a chance for Leinster to book their place in the Pro12 final, while the RDS crowd can bid farewell to two of their long-serving heroes.

Saturday’s game has huge importance for Leinster's future – the priority being to maintain the momentum while also fuelling the hunger and ambition for success.

It would be very easy to watch what may be Leo Cullen and Brian O Driscoll's last game in a Leinster jersey with sentimentality and little trepidation for the future. But there is no room for that in professional sport – no one knows that better than players themselves.

The Leinster team that Brian and Leo leave behind has benefited from their service and has been shaped by their values.

As each generation hands the torch to the next, they aim to leave things better than they found them and to have moved the bar higher for those who follow them. Brian and Leo have done that in spades.

When rugby went professional in 1995, a lot of things fell into place for the Irish game. The provincial structure suited the Heineken Cup campaign, to the chagrin of the French and English.

The profile of the inter-provincial games became greater, which gave a more competitive platform for the Irish selection process as well as TV rights revenue and all that comes with that.

For the first time, players got paid to play, while higher standards of fitness and commitment were demanded.

The one area that was unclear was how this would impact on players physically. How much could a body train in a week? How long for and what impact would this have on performances?

This became known as the ‘science of sport’. Through trial and error and expert advice from performance and fitness coaches, this was incorporated into the training schedule. It also became apparent that controlled rest was as important as the daily training sessions.

The final cog in the professional teams' wheel was the players and their will to win for their province. Rugby is a hard, physical game in which you depend utterly on the guy beside you. Brian and Leo both always had your back.

Their commitment was defined by the courage that they demonstrated on the pitch and the modesty they displayed off it. In some ways they are the final links with the amateur era as they embodied the best of both amateur and professional times.

Brian is a once-in-a-generation player who altered the scene completely upon his arrival. His talent is hard to replace and the Leinster set-up will be very different in September.

Leo is an incredible worker – an utterly committed player. He is honest and was never afraid to aim for the highest standards.

Often his contribution went unseen but his leadership qualities were equalled by his work rate. He will be a great asset to the coaching staff next season.

Professional rugby in Ireland has gained from both players’ involvement. Like every other ex-professional rugby player in Ireland they can bring great attributes into their new chosen career.

In modern rugby, you learn very quickly about values like discipline, punctuality, loyalty, ambition and dealing with success and failure. These values are of great benefit moving into a second career.

If players decide to stay within the province they will bring all of the above, and if players move on they can bring these to a new career.

June 2014 sees two great brands in world rugby part ways, ‘Brand O’Driscoll’ and ‘Brand Leinster’. The magic that these two created led to great times over the last 15 years.

O’Driscoll is a star and will leverage that star power in a multitude of new ways in his future. His constant hunger for success will ensure many more achievements in different disciplines that he chooses to pursue.

Leinster have the more difficult gap to fill. They must continue to manage the tricky “business of sport” without their talisman. But they have done extremely well over the last 10 years and will have planned for this day.

Mick Dawson has a vision for Leinster’s future and I expect to see O’Driscoll’s resources in those plans.

All of the Irish provinces have embraced the success in recent years and have managed to reinvest in stadia and marketing. It's important that they learn from the mistakes of the IRB and ERC.

In Munster, tradition will always be a value that cannot be bought. Players like Peter O’Mahony, Paul O’Connell and Dave Kilcoyne will make sure of that. The Anthony Foley coaching ticket was written in stone 40 years ago and the sooner Ronan O’Gara returns beside him, the better.

Ulster may have felt robbed this season in a newly developed Ravenhill but they must keep up the pressure at the top of the table next season.

They, too, have a high work rate both on and off the field. They have been guided well by their director of rugby, David Humphreys.

How great it is to see three Irish provinces in the play-offs – all being self-critical of their recent performances, yet confident of their future.

I expect Leinster to win at home this weekend with some interesting battles – particularly Sean O’Brien up against Chris Henry. Leinster’s recent form has not been great by their own high standards, but they have two good games still left in them.

The only loser over the next few weeks is likely to be Glasgow, which will leave Irish rugby in fine fettle at the end of the 2014 season.

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