Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

We do love you Brian O'Driscoll... but don't spoil Ulster Rugby's party

Brian O'Driscoll is set to make his last appearance at Ravenhill tomorrow night

What a night is in prospect at Ravenhill tomorrow. It's the official opening of the magnificent new stadium, it may be the final time Ulster fans see skipper Johann Muller, John Afoa and Tom Court playing on home turf and the mouthwatering RaboDirect PRO12 match against Leinster is of monumental importance in terms of the season being deemed a success or failure for Mark Anscombe's side.

Oh, and one other thing, tomorrow night promises to be the last appearance for the great Brian O'Driscoll on Northern Ireland soil, ahead of his impending retirement from the game he has graced with such class and authority for 15 years.

Should O'Driscoll be selected, and I really hope he is, it will offer Ulster supporters the opportunity to pay tribute to this iconic figure for all that he has achieved for rugby on the island.

Everyone inside the ground will have roared him on when he was wearing the green of Ireland and red of the Lions.

When he races on to the Ravenhill grass in the blue of Leinster, he ought to be given the warmest of receptions and when he walks to the dressing room after the match he should receive the same again.

During match time though must be different. He's not our hero then, he's an opponent who must be beaten. BOD would not expect anything different.

There is a part of me that wants to see some O'Driscoll magic for one last time, but I just hope he doesn't do a Cristiano Ronaldo and break our sporting dreams.

You may recall Northern Ireland's last home game in the ill-fated World Cup qualifying campaign against Portugal last September was the final international at the old Windsor Park, before reconstruction.

In the stands that evening there were many emotions and memories swirling around of glory days gone by and with them a real intent to send the 'old Windsor' out on a high.

It was all going well too, with Michael O'Neill's side leading 2-1 until Chris Brunt and Kyle Lafferty stupidly got themselves sent off and the best footballer on the planet took over.

Ronaldo was magnificent, scoring a hat-trick as Portugal won 4-2. It doesn't often happen inside football grounds, especially Windsor, but the Real Madrid star was so breathtaking he was applauded by admiring Northern Ireland fans as he was substituted in the dying moments.

On such an historic occasion it was fitting that one of the world greats stepped up to show his class, but ultimately Ronaldo had spoiled our party.

Ulster cannot allow O'Driscoll to do the same as Ravenhill officially opens its doors to a bright new era and a brilliant new arena which hopefully will see plenty of success and silverware in the future – maybe even in the next few weeks.

The Heineken Cup may have gone, and of course that was a crushing blow, but the PRO12 crown is still up for grabs.

Ulster have not won anything since 2006 so let's not get too choosy here. The PRO12 is not as glamorous but one could lead to the other. Getting into a winning habit is vital.

Ulster are in fourth place in the table at present with Ospreys, who face Zebre tonight, breathing down their necks. By my calculations finishing in the top two and having a home semi-final is possible but unrealistic, so let's focus on staying alive in the tournament.

I reckon Anscombe's side need at least one win from their remaining two games to do that and earn a play-off place.

Next weekend they are at Munster, so it might be a wise idea for Muller, Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble and the lads to grab the victory tomorrow.

Some big names will be missing for the home side, but that should not stop those who play from raising their recent standards and raising the roof in front of 18,000 expectant spectators.

BOD can score a stunning try, but here's to an Ulster triumph in the end.

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