Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

Brian O'Driscoll is the greatest

Main man: Brian O'Driscoll at Carton House ahead of today's big showdown

Each time Ireland play England, you can bet your last fiver that a journalist from the other side of the Irish Sea will appear on the day on which the Irish name their team.

Thursday was no exception. Right on cue, a fellow hack 'from beyond the wave', to borrow from Amhrán na bhFiann, arrived at Ireland's Carton House base to hear Joe Schmidt's selection.

But the newcomer had other items on his agenda. In particular, he wanted to know about Brian O'Driscoll who today will be making his 131st appearance for Ireland and his last at Twickenham.

What a stage on which to equal George Gregan's world record total of 139 Tests which includes eight for the Lions.

Our English friend asked Paul O'Connell to sum up what BOD, the man he has succeeded as captain, has contributed not only to the team but to rugby on this island.

O'Connell pondered for a moment before paying his colleague this wonderful tribute.

"From an Irish point of view I think he's spread confidence across the whole set-up.

"Brian has been playing for Ireland since I've been involved and I suppose I grew up watching Ireland in the 90s, and maybe that confidence wasn't there in the Irish team.

"Any team that takes the field with Brian in it always feels they have a chance. You see that confidence now spread across the provinces; you see guys like Johnny Sexton that have watched Brian and learned under Brian and kinda realise this is how you need to play the game.

"You need to be the complete player. You need to defend as well as you attack. You need to be able to lead a team off the pitch as well as on the pitch.

"I think when Brian is finished that confidence will remain in the Irish squad because I think a few players have moulded themselves on him a little bit and have seen this is what you need to be to be the all-round rugby player.

"As well as that, what he does on the pitch is just incredible. Your best attacker isn't necessarily your best defender, but Brian is that.

"He's a fantastic attacking player, but also an incredible defender, an incredible poacher, he's brilliant at the ruck, has a great work ethic, a very unselfish player as well.

"He is actually a very understated and quiet guy as well behind it all," he said.

And then O'Connell gave the visitor a great parting line by saying: "We've another three games left with him, so we won't write him off yet."

O'Connell's from-the-heart words cut to the chase.

Despite the fact that he is by far the best known Irish player ever, 35-year-old O'Driscoll has never lost sight of the fact that rugby is a team game.

Among my horde of memorabilia I have a recording of what is probably my favourite piece of sports broadcast journalism. It is by Hugh McIlvanney, The Sunday Times' magnificent Scottish wordsmith.

In 1974, when asked by the BBC's 'Sport Report' to broadcast an article on Muhammad Ali's then-imminent retirement, McIlvanney's inspired article included the words: "If, when the sad day comes, you should be aware of an animated blur passing your window on a downward course, spare a sympathetic thought, for the chances are that one of our bunch will have decided that he cannot go on without the greatest source of copy the trade has ever known."

As well as highlighting the pure skill and craft of Ali's boxing, McIlvanney's 2.46 minutes masterpiece stressed the courage which underpinned it.

His closing words were: "He will remain the greatest for me for two simple reasons: he was not only the most beautiful but also the bravest sportsman I have ever seen."

The same can be said of the best rugby player Ireland has ever produced, who today at Twickenham goes top of the world.

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