Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

The coach's humiliation of Brian O'Driscoll is a sign of abysmal judgment

Brian O'Driscoll will always be the darling of fans
Brian O'Driscoll will always be the darling of fans

Four nations as one? Not, apparently, if you disagree with the coach'

I very much doubt if Brian O'Driscoll was enthused by the more mawkish excesses of cheerleading decanted in recent days by his Lions omission.

The miracles of cyberspace will have kept him up to speed on the nation's convulsions over Warren Gatland's loss of reason. So it's probably worth seeking out some little air-pockets of calm here.

Gatland made a call that, yes, rather a lot of people considered puzzling. Indeed, by the time you read these words, there's every chance that that call will already be cut in stone as the opening line to another Test series death notice for the Lions.

But what's the point of having somebody in charge if they don't feel licensed to make a big decision?

Gatland's 'sin' this week wasn't the dropping of O'Driscoll. It was what prefaced that call, the wheeling out of Ireland's greatest player for media duties when, presumably, his omission was an idea already occupying the coach's imagination.

Humiliated

If O'Driscoll feels humiliated, I suspect it is because of that, because he so palpably (and publicly) believed that he would be playing in today's Test, probably as captain. The press conference schedule for this week would not have been finalised until after last Saturday's defeat in Melbourne. Given his impending demotion, O'Driscoll should not have been on it.

To be denied that simple courtesy represented abysmal judgment from the Lions management. Professional sport is nobody's creche. It's an often brutal environment in which ruthlessness is encouraged. O'Driscoll embodies that quality better than most. His career has been forged on an ability to park all superfluity the moment he crosses the white line. There has never been a tougher, more single-minded competitor in Irish sport.

Being dropped is new territory for him, but he will readily live with it. Gatland, after all, owed nobody a guarantee of selection. What he did owe O'Driscoll was respect. After Melbourne, he should – at least –have alerted Ireland's greatest player to the possibility that the final page of his Lions story had already been turned. Instead, he sent him to a press conference dais, publicly anticipating the third Test as some kind of defining challenge in a gloriously decorated career.

That is why O'Driscoll's disappointment will have been worn so publicly in Sydney. Gatland pretty much made him feel a fool. For the coach to then talk of a key "leadership" role he envisaged O'Driscoll performing in the build-up to today's final Test was, as Eddie O'Sullivan so aptly put it on RTE radio, "asinine". The bruises of the week would simply have been tattooed on every utterance.

That said, the Irish media hasn't been entirely adult in its response, has it? One commentator went so far as to suggest that the Ireland players chosen for today's Test would be grievously deflated by O'Driscoll's omission and cursed to perform accordingly. This theory surely rose straight out of the Enid Blyton manual for competition.

Perhaps Tommy and Jonny and Sean rallied around their friend all week with lashings of lemonade.

That tone carried like a virus onto certain message boards where many were moved to declare their sudden, blindingly partisan hope that the Wallabies would win. Four nations as one?

Not, apparently, if you had a quarrel with the coach.

To some degree, the artificiality of the Lions concept has been exposed by this week's furore. Vested interests will always come to the surface on tour under the merest hint of stress. Do you imagine, for example, that viewing figures in Scotland will be off the radar this morning? Me neither.

Lions tours acquire a kind of spectral dimension unless the Test team houses our national heroes.

Without them, that red shirt comes to represent a global bank and its skeletons. Nothing more. So rest assured that O'Driscoll will get over this week far quicker than we know. And I suspect he'll refrain from offering any real insight into the hurt endured until the publication of his autobiography next year.

This might be a good thing.

The nation now needs that time to heal.

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Latest Sport News

Stats Centre