Players beg O’Driscoll to answer Irish call
Brian O’Driscoll has not said anything to confirm his retirement from the game he has graced so magnificently, but the signs are ominous.
Following the full-time whistle in Saturday’s 13-13 draw with France at the Aviva Stadium the received wisdom was that we had just witnessed the Irish midfield genius’s last-ever international appearance on home soil.
That belief appeared to have been endorsed by an emotional end-of-match embrace with wife, Amy, who had tears in her eyes as she hugged her pummeled husband. Their four-week old baby daughter, Sadie, was there, too.
Why would anyone bring a month-old baby to a rugby match on a bitterly cold, horribly wet March evening unless it was a particularly significant occasion?
She will never remember it, of course, but how ironic if the first rugby match she ever attended turned out to be her father’s last for Ireland.
Ultimately the decision will be his, a fact his playing colleagues stressed. But while his fellow-players know that to be the case, it has not stopped them making it known that they would love to see him continue a little longer.
Munster pair Donnacha Ryan and Conor Murray spoke for the nation in expressing their admiration for BOD and the hope that he can be persuaded to keep going.
As they see it, he is still a supremely gifted footballer capable of delivering on the biggest of rugby stages.
Ryan, who bossed Ireland’s line-out against the French, made no attempt to disguise the regard in which he holds Leinster’s former Lions captain and his country’s lion-heart.
Asked what it is like to play alongside O’Driscoll the big lock replied: “He’s phenomenal.
“He just doesn’t quit really. He’s relentless.” And highlighting the impact of the great man’s words before the players take the pitch, Ryan added: “The delivery of how he speaks is quite accurate and filled with passion. It’s very good to even be in the same dressing room alongside him.
“Obviously you’re looking at him over the years and you have the utmost admiration for him, so to be able to play alongside him is phenomenal.”
In Ryan’s eyes, there is plenty of mileage left in the O’Driscoll engine.
As he sees it, the man who led Ireland a record-shattering 83 times before coach Declan Kidney took the job from him by deciding to stick with Jamie Heaslip who, in the skipper’s injury-enforced absence had captained the team in the November 2010 Guinness Series, is still up to the mark in terms of form and ability.
“To be honest, the way the man is playing, I couldn’t see why he’d be thinking it’s his last game. Age is just a number and to be fair to him he’s playing really, really well,” Ryan said of the 34-year-old.
And trying to inject a little levity into the heavy-duty subject of O’Driscoll’s possible exit, he added: “They should sign him up for a development contract the way he’s going — for 10 years!”
With that he reverted to sombre mode, saying: “To be fair to him, obviously Irish rugby would be gutted to see him go.”
Scrum-half Murray was equally glowing in his praise and equally appreciative of what O’Driscoll has given — and continues to give — the game in Ireland.
Speaking in the aftermath of the France match which the battered, bruised, patched-up O’Driscoll insisted on finishing despite the fact that he had just received off-field treatment, Murray said: “He’s an unbelievable pro; he’d got a dead leg and still managed to come back on the pitch and try to do his bit for the team.”
Such was the physical punishment O’Driscoll suffered for having put his body on the line — quite literally — over and over again against the French that the post-match fear was that he might not be able to face the Italians in Rome on Saturday. That remains to be seen. Asked about O’Driscoll’s plans the Munster number nine admitted to be being in the dark.
“I don’t know what Brian is thinking; I can’t speak for him, he said. “But if that was his last game he played a huge part again.”
However there was obvious concern that what has been a magnificent career may be nearing an end. In tandem with that was Murray’s admission that he would love to see O’Driscoll commit himself to a further term.
“Hopefully he stays around. I’m sure he has plenty to give if he decides to,” he said.
There was, however, recognition of reality when he conceded: “But again, that’s up to him.”