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Brian O'Driscoll's final hurrah starts at RDS

By David Kelly

And so the final lap begins for Brian Gerald O'Driscoll. Aptly enough, the greatest player this island has produced will begin his swansong season against Cardiff on the very ground, the RDS, where the repeated exhortations of his name by adoring supporters swayed him to prolong his gilded career for "one more year".

With a glittering testimonial in the pipeline, another autobiography due to hit the shelves and a spectacular 'Late Late Show' mooted, it promises to be a frenetic few months for the Dubliner.

Oh, and then there's the small matter of some ball too.

Lest it be remembered, his impact off the field derives only from his immeasurable influence on it.

And so, in a season which threatens the burgeoning promise of an Ireland farewell with the coach from whom he has admitted has been his greatest influence, and the beginning of another key relationship at provincial level, O'Driscoll will seek salvage in a familiar resource.

Himself alone. For O'Driscoll made this comeback not for the fans, or Joe Schmidt, or Matt O'Connor. But for himself.

This evening will offer the slimmest glimpse into what the final year may hold for a player who will continue to defy the dying light with every sinew of his being.

The only detractors he must thwart are those within his own head.

There is little to suggest from his recent past, at least not since his last period of vivid introspection some five years ago, that this will prove beyond his remarkable powers of productivity.

The perceptions from the outside will, as always, intervene in those discussions.

This is a player, one must remember, whose last professional appearance was a fitfully inglorious occasion, as he mingled with a winning Lions squad in Austalia despite his most brutal omission from that successful congregation.

Neither Ireland nor Leinster can boast such a magnificence of resources to dole out the same curt, professional dismissal of his genius; nevertheless, his displays this term will be initially, and predominantly, viewed through that prism held up so coldly by Warren Gatland.

O'Driscoll himself, however, will not wallow in the past; his decision to play for one more year was predicated on what might happen in the future, not what had occurred before.

It is the ageless quandary of the pro; how to choose a departure at the time of one's own choosing.

Gatland's culling of him might have added a sour note to the epilogue of a wonderful career had he stuck with his original instinct to quit last summer; by staying on, he will hope to formulate one final, sensational chapter.

This evening will provide a delicate aperitif to the feast of Heineken Cup and November clashes to come with, amongst others, those pesky New Zealanders against whom he remains lucklessly winless.

However, with O'Driscoll joining a fab four of returning Lions –Cian Healy and Rob Kearney make their first full starts after cameos last week while Jamie Heaslip appears for the first time – there is an authentic sense of the real business of this season kicking off tonight.

Cardiff, whose decline as a serious force was marked by their gift to Zebre in offering the hapless Italians their first ever win in Pro12 rugby last weekend, welcome back their own significant Lions representative, captain Sam Warburton, ahead of schedule.

But aside from Ulster, no side has emerged from Dublin with the win in 17 attempts and, with or without their greatest player, victory would be a formality for Leinster. O'Driscoll will just gild another notable landmark in his career. And more portentously, he will dearly hope, a positive start to a season of high watermarks.

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