Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Heineken Cup: Manchester United agony keeps O’Driscoll on his toes

Looking ahead: Leinster star and Manchester United fan Brian O'Driscoll wants a happier ending on Saturday

Brian O'Driscoll won't like to admit it but he's probably the only Manchester United fan to take some morsel of consolation from Sunday's most dramatic title race conclusion.

As millions of United fans slumped dejectedly to their knees upon the final whistle at the Etihad, the Irish captain was at least thankful that his knee could take the strain after having a small chip of cartilage removed two days earlier.

However, pacing the kitchen of his Dublin home for those final, fateful minutes of his boyhood heroes' script-defying surrender of their title was not how he had intended to begin the build-up to his own team's defence of their realm.

But at least it gave his troubled knee a valuable workout.

“I'd be more of the view that Monday is the start of the week rather than Sunday,” he replies drolly, when asked to reflect on the stunning weekend events whose incredible drama once more demonstrated how uneasy can rest the crown of sporting success. “Yeah, it was entertaining,” he smiles. “It just shows you what sport can do. I was walking around the kitchen for the last 20 minutes of the Man City game. Rarely would I be able to watch Man City for that long.

“But then it didn't really matter what was going on in the United game. It was all about the City game.”

O'Driscoll had no control over events in Manchester. This weekend in London will be different. He vows to be fit to enable Leinster to control a potentially historic destiny.

“One thing about having a longish career is that you learn to deal with having knocks going into games,” says O'Driscoll (33), whose body has suffered a disproportionate amount of abuse throughout his gilded career at the highest level. As much as I mightn't get to train fully until Thursday, I don't think I'll be far off 100 per cent come Saturday so it doesn't worry me greatly.

“The injury is good. I'm feeling good. It was just a niggle I had last week. The week that's in it, I'm just looking forward to getting back. Listen, you pull out all the stops when it's Heineken Cup week.”

In one respect, Leinster supporters' fears over their greatest ever player could act as a positive portent: this time last season, he limped from a league semi-final against Ulster, only to return to training a day before the Cardiff final before featuring in the dramatic Northampton win.

And his astonishing resilience in rehabilitating in double-quick time following the shoulder surgery that ruled him out of the Six Nations should also help to allay supporters' anxiety.

“Part of it is about remaining positive and concentrating on the best-case scenario,” he says of his well-tested lightning powers of recovery.

“If you get down about yourself it doesn't help the healing process. Provided you can remain upbeat I think you give your body every chance to recover as soon as it possibly can.

“I'm fortunate too in that physically I do recover from injuries quicker than some. It's a combination of working hard on small things and making sure everything else is ticking over.”

All his days and weeks on the treatment table have ensured O'Driscoll never allows his thoughts to drift too far ahead. Hence he dismisses the prospect of his side becoming Europe's greatest ever this Saturday. “We haven't won anything yet,” he warns. “You can't worry about the prize. I am a big believer in concentrating on the process rather than the prize.”

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