Saturday 18 November 2017

Tony Ward: Let us salute the greatest of them all

Tony Ward

Tony Ward

By chance, I happened to tune in to the television programme featuring one Brian Gerard O'Driscoll over the Christmas break. It's not often I say this, but as I watched 'Total Rugby Special' on Sky Sports, it made me mighty proud to be Irish, seeing a sporting icon handle himself with such dignity and humility in the most confident and measured way.

Obviously, his rugby achievements – and boy they are many – were at the core of the programme (as was the over-the-top saturation coverage of the upcoming Lions tour), but here was an example of an on-field legend comfortably fitting his accompanying role.

As role models go, I can think of none better. It may have taken the 2005 Biarritz set-up (immediately prior to IRFU contract renewal) to focus financial minds in Lansdowne Road on the treasure in their midst, and I did not agree with the O'Driscoll course of action at the time, ie flirting with the French, but I guess it served its purpose.

The more recent bout of loose lip in relation to Super 15 Rugby, and Michael Cheika's appointment in Sydney, I also found disappointing. However, we all make silly comments in our time and between courting Rugby League or moving to play Down Under, I too had my moments.

The nearest I actually came was in my final year, at a comparable age, travelling to Italy to discuss terms with Rugby Milano. Although prior to rugby professionalism, it was the nearest full-time thing available at the time.

For a myriad of reasons, switching countries, never mind hemispheres, at this stage of his pretty much flawless career ('that' tackle apart) is a no-no.

To be fair, his recent response to the 'Super 15' question married apology with honesty: "Maybe at 33 (34 next month), I should know better than to be throwing those comments out there."

There was, too, the blond hair phase. So what? Never has his standard of performance dropped. Form has, on occasion (although seldom), dipped, but class and commitment have never wavered. He is quite simply the most complete Irish rugby player of this or any other generation.

The potential to become Ireland's greatest player was evident from very early on, but some commentators, who should know better, chose to play cards from their own youth, whereby the heroes they worshipped had to be the best. How dare this young whippersnapper be mentioned in the same breath as Jack Kyle or Mike Gibson – to name but two giants in green.

It is impossible to compare individuals or teams from different generations. Different times, different styles, different demands.

O'Driscoll has certainly enjoyed the fruits of professionalism and all it entails. Being born at the right time has enabled him to fulfil his vast potential. I am envious, but not in any way begrudging, for it is here he stands apart – not just for the truly great player we know him to be, but for the way in which he has always carried himself – irrespective of his hair colour!

I don't know what he intends doing when he retires. Apparently, player agency work is on the agenda, but if the governing body has any semblance of sense, it should be be putting in place some sort of ambassadorial role for the greatest rugby player of our time.

As a very good friend of mine – former manager to Brian and Leinster – Ken Ging so succinctly puts it: "I like my heroes to be nice guys." Brian is all of that.

He is no one's fool, but is a modest guy representative of everything Irish. If anyone doubts that then I suggest putting watching 'Total Rugby: Brian O'Driscoll Special' top of the New Year agenda.

In-form Morris may fit the bill for Kidney

Back in 2005 (with Cian Healy as hooker) Belvedere College closed a gap of 33 years when they lifted the Leinster Schools Senior Cup for the ninth time in their history.

Inspired by Paul O'Donohoe, Ian Keatley and Eoin O'Malley, they beat Blackrock College 16-10 in a long overdue success.

But talented as that Belvedere team was, their opponents – who were defending champions – fielded an even stronger backline with David Moore and Ian Madigan the halves, Luke Fitzgerald in the centre, Vasaya Artemiev on the wing and Niall Morris at full-back.

Tom Geraghty and Niall McDermott, as mentors to that 'Rock team, occasionally switched the outside attacking trio of Fitzgerald, Morris and Artemiev around.

When filling the last three slots, I cannot recall a quicker or more talented combination in any underage side before or since.

I mention the three Williamstown amigos now because with Fitzgerald set to make his comeback at Leinster and Artemiev firmly established as an attacking force at Franklin's Gardens in Northampton, it is Morris on the right wing at Leicester making very definite attacking waves.

The former Blackrock College RFC player (thank God for the AIL) poached two more tries in the 31-9 defeat of London Irish at the Madejski Stadium at the weekend to see the Welford Road side into third place in the English Premiership, two points off leaders Harlequins.

With Tommy Bowe sidelined for the foreseeable future, Declan Kidney could do worse than throw a glance over Leicester way.

Irish Independent

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