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Six Nations hopeful D’Arcy’s living life to full

By David Kelly

A few years back, Gordon D'Arcy told a story from the 2004 6 Nations campaign which truly launched the Ireland centre upon the world stage. It is at once a parable that explains as much about the then Ireland assistant coach Declan Kidney's persona as it does his own.

‘How do you deal with all this attention?' D'Arcy recalls asking Kidney. “In his unique schoolteacher way,” says D'Arcy, “Declan replied, ‘Well, Gordon, there's an easy way to figure out who's who.

“‘How many of these were ringing you to say hard luck when you weren't selected for the World Cup in Australia?’”

He only turns 30 next Wednesday but Wexford's own rugby superstar, Gordon D'Arcy, who wins his 44th cap tomorrow 11 years after his first, has learned to sift through the flotsam and jetsam of an entire adulthood spent in the public eye.

And he has had enough extraordinary vacillations during his decade-long career to acknowledge the subtleties expounded by his Grand Slam-winning coach-cum-philosopher.

Only last summer, he reeled back in horror when a journalist's telephone call posed a question that had initially been keyed into a laptop in a doped-up bedsit but was now spinning around the world wide web.

Was Gordon D'Arcy's career over?

D'Arcy, who had enjoyed the two best seasons of his career, had shattered his right fore-arm while awkwardly swinging at Italian centre Andrea Masi in Croke Park in February 2008.

What should have been a simple six week stint in casualty ultimately extended into 11 months. What should have required one surgical procedure — if any at all — required three in total.

When he returned, you pressed him on the agony, despite knowing this wasn't one of those sports people who often spend hours wallowing in every minute details of gut-wrenching comebacks from injury.

Not ‘Darce'. “Ah Dave, I don't want to focus on hearsay or stuff I've no control over,” he said this time last year. Such introspection may seem strange within the often very public Irish professional rugby circuit.

But then you remember a chat before the 2005 Lions tour, after another season had been lost to a hamstring strain sustained against — who else? — Italy. Brian O'Driscoll had succumbed to the same ailment on the same afternoon.

Yet when D'Arcy subsequently failed to recover as formidably as the then Lions captain, at the time sceptics sneakily whispered that he mentally bottled his recovery; they sniped once more when a subsequent comeback attempt faltered quite publicly in a Celtic League match against the Ospreys.

“Listen, everybody has their opinion on it,” he said. “I dunno what to say to all that speculation.”

Even more scurrilous rumours would trail him on Clive Woodward's fateful trek to New Zealand; arguably D'Arcy's form hadn't merited inclusion but nevertheless he made a cast list which made a Cecil B. DeMille set look like a nativity play.

Come the third test, the Lions were mentally and physically battered. Reportedly, so was D'Arcy; at least, according to the variety of English spinners who sotto voce told the Paddy contingent of hacks that their boy had “bottled it”.

The story was never confirmed or denied until Lions legend Fran Cotton resurrected it before last year's expedition to South Africa. “It shows a weakness,” thundered the rugby dinosaur.

“I don't care if he was tired or didn't think he was up to it. People dream of playing for the Lions in a Test match and he turned it down.”

D'Arcy never spoke to Woodward again and — that introspection again — contained his anger until the eve of his return to the red jersey against the Cheetahs last June.

“I nearly fell over when I heard that and I was very disappointed at the way it was channelled into the media. All I know is I didn't pull out of any game.”

D'Arcy has become better at handling the peaks and troughs but it's been some learning curve.

When I helped organise a GOAL fundraiser in the Olympia a few years back, his was one of the first positive replies.

His social concerns are pervasive in all his other charity work, too.

Rugby is his profession — not his whole life.

Sports psychology — Enda McNulty has been a big help — aided his most recent recuperation.

As he made his tentative comeback from injury last season, he appeared on Tom Dunne and left the nation with a suitable request.

“You just haven't earned it yet, baby.”

Belatedly, last year's twin glories of Grand Slam and Heineken Cup were just rewards for durability under often harsh duress.

“One thing I took from last year,” said O'Driscoll this week, “is to play to your strengths. And he's certainly doing that.”

Now D'Arcy is enjoying the liberation of just living in the moment.

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