Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Peter Bills: O’Driscoll’s led Irish like a true hero

Ireland play Wales in their Grand Slam decider, Cardiff, March 21, 2009
Ireland on their way to the Grand Slam, Cardiff, March 21. 2009

From Ronan O’Gara frantically joining a ruck to try and clear out opposing forwards, to Luke Fitzgerald tearing up the middle and Tommy Bowe’s searing runs down the right.........the key to Ireland’s Grand Slam triumph has been their team work.

This has been a collective, an overall success because everyone, in different ways on different days, has contributed mightily.

By no means every Irish player has been on top of his game all season. Frankly, at times, O’Gara has looked only a shadow of his true self.

But then on Saturday in Cardiff, the Munster outside half came vividly to life, regaling us with his best form. His audacious drop goal won the Slam but it was what he’d done in the previous 77 minutes which was equally important. In essence, he demonstrated the all-round player he can be. I fully expect him now to go on the Lions tour.

Stephen Ferris’s unfortunate injury left the door open for Denis Leamy, so disappointed not to be in the starting line-up in the first place.

He strode manfully to the task, giving a non-stop effort that epitomised Declan Kidney’s team on the day.

What it confirmed was that Grand Slams are not won with an odd performance of genius here and there. They take great commitment, sustained over six long weeks and within that time, potential champions have to demonstrate they can handle adversity, can put behind them setbacks, disappointments and frustrations at only modest form.

Ireland have done all those things this season. At times, they’ve hardly played that well. Yet, quietly inspired, urged and gently cajoled by Kidney, they have stuck rigidly to the task, refusing to lose their focus or be deflected from the chief task.

As Brian O’Driscoll said in Cardiff on Saturday night: “The guts of this team has been together for a number of years and we have won a few Triple Crowns. But we always wanted the big one, the Slam.”

It was that enduring ambition and their determination to keep grinding on towards it that made Ireland Grand Slam Champions in the end. That and the limitless inspiration the team must have drawn from the stirring example of their captain, O’Driscoll.

This was, as Wales’s defence coach Shaun Edwards said, “Ireland’s hour” but O’Driscoll and his men made it theirs.

They seized the moment with their aptitude, application and ambition. They went out determined not to leave a single ounce of energy in their bodies. This was driving a car flat out at top speed and never letting up until the thing drained of fuel. It was a bit like that for Ireland’s players at Cardiff.

And now the glory is theirs, and deservedly so. They can bask in their triumph, safe in the knowledge that this so-called golden generation of Irish players will not fade into the sunset ultimately unfulfilled and frustrated.

Every one of them played his part but perhaps one more than all others. O’Driscoll has been peerless this season, a huge inspiration in the calmest, quietest of ways.

If ever a player led by example it has been him this season. Again, on Saturday, he scored a vital try. But he did so much else, and his defensive work was phenomenal.

He, more than anyone else, deserves this ultimate achievement.

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