Why life of Brian O’Driscoll is inspirational
Published 23/02/2011 | 00:22
Watching Brian O’Driscoll on television you marvel at his athleticism and ability to drive the Irish rugby team on.
The guy is an awesome talent.
Meet him in the flesh and he’s just as impressive off the pitch.
More so, even.
The bulging biceps and tree-trunk thighs have helped make him a world superstar and given him the physical presence to tackle giants and race past opponents in equal measure.
But it’s O’Driscoll’s mind that sets him apart.
Clever player. Clever man.
Fitting that, with our interview at the Cornmarket branch of Gordons chemist in Belfast set up to co-ordinate with the Irish skipper promoting a new Gillette product.
“The best a man can get!”
When O’Driscoll finishes, he’ll go down as the best Ireland ever had with Jack Kyle and Mike Gibson his only true competition.
This job has presented me with the opportunity to meet and interview many sporting heroes.
Hard to believe, I know, but some of them, despite all the success and wealth they have achieved, are more insecure than your granny on a skateboard.
This is one bloke who is comfortable in his own skin.
Self-belief oozes out of him. He wasn’t arrogant during our meeting, just supremely confident, which in a world when everything he does comes under scrutiny is a useful quality to possess.
Often pictured with his actress wife Amy Huberman on the front pages, O’Driscoll sees himself as a serious sportsman rather than a celebrity.
There is a fun and mischievous side to him too — more of that later — to go with an appreciation of his position as one of Ireland’s most famous figures.
Hundreds queued up outside Gordons chemist last Saturday afternoon to meet and greet the 32-year-old born in Clontarf on Dublin’s Northside.
The kids were excited and the parents ecstatic at the prospect of getting up close and personal to their hero who has won 109 caps for Ireland and has been the main man for his country since scoring a stunning hat-trick of tries against France in Paris, just one year after making his international debut in 1999.
You may be surprised to learn that O’Driscoll’s hero as a youth was nothing to do with rugby, though opponents who faced this rugged character may beg to differ.
“I was a football fan before I became a rugby fan. Growing up I supported Manchester United and my hero was Mark Hughes,” said O’Driscoll, smiling at the thought of the uncompromising striker, now manager of Fulham, in his pomp.
“He had an edge to him and always scored great goals. He was a man for a volley and he had more to offer than most strikers. He had a Sparky edge to him and I liked that.”
O’Driscoll also has huge admiration for United’s current Welsh star Ryan Giggs, who was recently handed a one year extension to his contract.
“To be going that long at that level is quite phenomenal and I think it was totally justified that he was recently named the best United player of all time,” he added.
“Ahead of Bestie?” I ask, thinking he must have forgotten about our George for a second.
“Yeah, I think it's about consistency of performance for me,” he replies quick as a flash.
“Guys can shine and have two or three big years, but this is the 21st season for Giggs! That is incredible.
“To be at the top for that long and continue to be a matchwinner is fantastic.
“Watching him now he gives other players and the team a certain calmness. He has that presence and his team-mates have that knowledge that this guy has seen pretty much everything there is to be seen.”
Like O’Driscoll himself perhaps, so will 32-year-old Brian go on like Giggs, who will be 38 next season?
“No. I'm going on for two more years then I'll worry about that then,” states the man who in 2009 led Ireland to their first Grand Slam in 61 years.
“Previously I had planned maybe finishing after the World Cup this year but the closer I got to it I was enjoying my rugby so I didn't see any reason to quit. As long as I enjoy it and feel I still have the capabilities to perform to the level I want to, I'll continue playing.”
For a few years now, Brian’s wife has been showing her capabilities in the acting profession and was recently rewarded for her craft with an IFTA (Irish Film and Television Academy) award.
She won the night before Ireland were due to face France in the Six Nations with the captain leaving the team room to watch his wife claim her best actress prize in his hotel room.
“I wasn't going to make the boys sit through the whole ceremony so I went up to my room to watch it on my own,” he said.
“Amy did very well winning the IFTA. It was a happy household. If only we'd finished the weekend by beating France it would have been an even happier household.”
On the subject of households, I wonder if there has been any pressure from family members about adding to his own.
Not generally one to talk about his private life, he’s quite open, saying: “That happens to all newlyweds — ‘ah the next thing there will be kids’ — but you give them a blunt no, not yet and that's that.
“Things are too busy in both our lives to be considering that at the moment.”
You get the feeling when the time arrives O’Driscoll will be a pretty cool dad.
His own father Frank was a decent rugby player and Brian says he would be happy for his kids to continue the O’Driscoll sporting tradition, though they won’t necessarily be pushed into rugby.
“Sport is good for a number of reasons,” he says. “Team sports are very important for shaping personalities. It's important that kids understand the mentality behind playing team sports and playing for one another and playing with friends.
“Also from a fitness point of view sport is hugely beneficial. There is a big obesity problem in this country and the more kids that are exercising the less of an issue that's going to be, so I would promote exercise and sport to my own kids or someone else's.
“I wouldn't be the sort of dad to push rugby on to my kids though. It's whatever they are into and happy with.”
O’Driscoll’s love of sport is in contrast to how he feels about the celebrity status that comes with 21st century fame. When I say he has been labelled the Irish David Beckham, there's a sigh. Then comes a direct response.
“People are clutching at straws for comparisons if that's the case,” he said. “Maybe it's because I did the stupid blonde thing a few years ago.
“I guess people are always going to make comparisons with those that have gone before. It's not something I pay too much attention to.
“David Beckham has been a fantastic sportsman first and foremost and he's produced at vital times and I want to be remembered for my sporting ability more than anything else.”
He’ll also be remembered for one particular legendary quote in a press conference.
“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.”
There’s a smile when I bring it up. “It was kind of for a bet,” he admits. “We have an itinerary every day and our bag man Paddy O'Reilly put it down as our quote of the day. I thought it was a good one too.
“So one of the boys asked me for a bet if I could get it in during a press conference.”
“Which one?” I ask.
“So how much did you win?”
“It wasn't a monetary bet. I can't tell you what it was for,” he answers, smirking.
He adds: “Sometimes if I hear something and think it’s a really good quote I try to get it in. Recently I got a tweet about something someone wanted me to say in a press conference after a game. Something random. I'm not going to do it all the time just for someone's amusement but sometimes we have a word of the day and for a laugh we try to get it mentioned.”
O’Driscoll then challenges me to include a word in this piece. I'll not tell you what it is, but, yes, I passed the captain’s test. You don’t want to let the inspirational Brian O’Driscoll down — one of the few men on this planet worshipped north and south of the border.
“That’s something to be proud of, but I don't really dwell much on what other people think,” he says.
“If you can be a good role model for people, well, great. You try and live your sporting life and the rest of your life as well as you can and if it's something that people admire, well, fantastic. I don't sit at home and think about it too much though — there's plenty of other things in my life going on.”
Brian O’Driscoll factfile
1979: Brian Gerald O’Driscoll born on January 21 in Clontarf, Dublin.
1998: Helps Ireland to win Under-19 World Cup.
1999: Wins first Test cap on June 12 in a 46–10 loss to Australia in Brisbane.
2000: Scores hat-trick of tries in Six Nations victory against France in Paris
2001: Makes first of 6 British and Irish Lions Test appearances
2003: Replaces the retiring Keith Wood as Ireland captain.
2004: Ireland win first Triple Crown since 1985, followed by further successes in 2006 and 2007.
2009: Leads Ireland to win the Triple Crown, Six Nations Championship and their first Grand Slam in 61 years.
2009: Helps Leinster win Heineken Cup with 19-16 win over Leicester Tigers.
2010: Becomes Ireland’s most capped player against Australia, winning his 103rd cap.