Saturday 20 January 2018

Time out: Break can help O’Driscoll pen final glorious chapter

Tony Ward

Tony Ward

It's all about timing, they say, and if ever that maxim rang true it is to the news that our greatest ever player is having an operation to free up the trapped nerve that has been causing him so much discomfort in his shoulder.

Not that I would expect anything different, given the individual concerned, but what I like about Brian O'Driscoll's decision to undergo this surgery now is the way he factored in his quality of life post-rugby.

He may have wanted more from his four World Cups and he should have won the IRB World Player of the Year award in 2009, which inexplicably went to Richie McCaw, but the most celebrated -- and for me the most talented -- rugby player in our history has nothing left to prove.

I repeat what I wrote in these pages seven days ago, prior to the announcement of his enforced break: for Brian, the driving motivation should have nothing whatsoever to do with "proving critics wrong".

It is all about enjoyment. So long as he enjoys getting up and going out to training (what would I and my pre-professional generation have given for that station in life?) and so long as others (chiefly Joe Schmidt and Declan Kidney) deem him good enough still to be holding down a first-team place for Leinster and Ireland, then the decision is clear.

My advice is to not let any other factor -- least of all outside opinion -- get in the way of that.

This most timely career break could help him see out the rest of his contract (to the end of the 2012/13 season), with the best to come.

I stress the timing of this essential operation, because inadvertently it removes the two big decisions paramount for him to continue his representative career at the same level of performance.

His absence from the Six Nations makes the appointment of a replacement captain essential and here Kidney is left with a no-brainer. Paul O'Connell should be that man -- and he should have been given the armband even had O'Driscoll been available.

As for Kidney's midfield combination, it is now open season but what an opportunity for Fergus McFadden, Luke Fitzgerald, Keith Earls (when he returns), Eoin O'Malley, Nevin Spence, Darren Cave and perhaps Eoin Griffin to make a mark between now and the visit of Wales to the Aviva Stadium in February.

Gordon D'Arcy and Paddy Wallace will continue in pole position at No 12 for the Six Nations, I suspect, but alongside in the No 13 shirt it is all to play for, with Tommy Bowe (pending game time there for the Ospreys) another very real possibility down that now vacant channel.

I heartily agree with O'Connell's contention that O'Driscoll has the wherewithal -- mental and physical -- to come back as good as ever after his operation and rehab.

Not only will he be in better tackling and scrapping condition, with his shoulder back to full working order, but he will also have the type of hunger he experienced in the wake of the infamous spear-tackle against New Zealand in 2005... perhaps even more so given the late stage in his career.

By accident rather than design, he has a heaven-sent opportunity to put together an appropriate final chapter to a truly extraordinary career.

In the meantime he will continue in his role as water-boy and disseminator of information. Wanting to be involved in that capacity is indicative of the man -- and significantly in O'Connell's enforced time out, the second-row performed the same duty-boy brief for Munster.

It is but a small part of what marks true leaders out from the rest. Put simply, no obituaries for BOD just yet.

On a more downbeat note, it was with great disappointment that I received a letter from a former playing colleague and one of the truly great characters of Munster rugby outlining his disillusionment with the Munster Branch and almost everything pertaining to the most recent Munster Senior Cup final played at Thomond Park.

For those oblivious to the history, Munster the brand is where it is today not because of beating the All Blacks in 1978 (though that of course helped) but because of an incredibly strong club base, with the Munster Senior Challenge Cup for so long the Holy Grail.

The match was played on a Friday night in front of a relatively small crowd far removed from the halcyon cup final days of old. The gates on the West (Shannon/Bohs) side were not open, thereby restricting viewing to the terrace and stand on the city side of the ground.

The Bruff and Garryowen teams were designated dressing-rooms on a west side minus spectators.

The cup was presented in the centre of the pitch in a stadium as devoid of atmosphere as it was of spectators.

Both clubs, but particularly the winning one, had to return to the dressing-rooms where in almost any sporting code anywhere they would be joined by friends, family and members of the opposition to celebrate their victory.

Not on this night, with access to the west side denied to everyone bar the players.

Spectators on the city side were ushered out of the ground unless they were making the way to the bar area, where they were eventually joined by the players, who had showered and tucked into a 'sumptuous' meal of sandwiches and tea.

Some 20 years ago, Garryowen were kicked out of the same competition (one they have won more than any other club) in the opening round for, among other reasons, failure to adhere to 'the importance of the cup to Munster rugby and its prized position in the rugby calendar'.

Events at this year's final have left a bitter taste for those still loyal to club rugby in the province, who feel they and this still great competition are being sold short by Munster officialdom on the high altar called professionalism.

Irish Independent

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