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It's the start of a new chapter for Drico and Ferris

After retiring from rugby, the two friends are ready to take their lives in different directions

By Jonathon Drennan

On a beautiful autumn day in Dublin, American tourists have filled the streets and hotels of the city. They have come for family reunions and a trip down memory lane.

Just off Grafton Street, Brian O'Driscoll and Stephen Ferris are enjoying their own catch up. It is just months since their rugby careers ended.

O'Driscoll sealed his international career with a thrilling Six Nations title in Paris, while Ferris' sporting life faded away in the more inauspicious surrounds of the physio's room at Ravenhill.

The two friends greet each other warmly. Ferris has driven to Dublin from Portrush having been at a wedding the night before. O'Driscoll is concerned about the former flanker's tiredness.

"Can we get this man a large pot of coffee please?" Ferris reassures O'Driscoll there is no immediate need for concern, the attendees of the ceremony were quite elderly so he got to bed at a respectable hour.

O'Driscoll laughs, for his late night wanderings nowadays are largely concerned with his young daughter Sadie.

Their friendship is laid back, built on a love of laughter and a good story. Life as rugby retirees has given them plenty of common ground to dig through. Ferris owns a house in Maghaberry and life away from rugby has given him plenty of time to enjoy smelling the roses.

He says: "I just find myself getting really competitive with my garden. I see my neighbour most mornings, and if his grass is looking better I just have to get myself out and do mine."

O'Driscoll laughs – his garden has similarly become a consuming passion. Their competitiveness on the rugby field has changed to the more gentle art of manicuring lawns.

Ferris first arrived for international duty eight years ago. He was a raw, incredibly physical back row player who left his mark on the opposition.

O'Driscoll remembers him vividly. "He was lifting weights in a way nobody was doing at this stage. He had this phenomenal technique and I remember thinking, 'does this guy play rugby as well as the weight lifting?' I just thought this lad is a serious specimen."

Ferris was physically confident, but nervous at mixing with established older players like O'Driscoll. "I'd watched Brian on TV for years and admired him greatly. But we got on very well from the very first day. We met for the first time in the Killiney Court Hotel where we were staying."

The two men enjoyed considerable success together in an international jersey, culminating in winning a Grand Slam in 2009. O'Driscoll and Ferris are physically distinctive. Ferris retains a huge muscular frame of a world class international backrow, while O'Driscoll has the build of a middleweight boxing contender.

Despite this contrast they both relished the attritional nature of the game. O'Driscoll is only now able to process what their bodies endured.

"When you're playing, you very rarely feel 100%. But when you are playing, mentally, you just deal with it. You forget about the pain the minute that you hear the roar of the crowd."

Ferris nods: "I remember us training for Ireland and seeing Drico, (Peter) Stringer and Paulie (O'Connell) wrapped in big coats. I'd be chatting to my Mum, saying I don't think these lads are feeling great. Then one would get man of the match. It was a learning process."

They played for Ireland together, and, unforgettably, for the British and Irish Lions in an epic series against South Africa in 2009. O'Driscoll had captained a Lions team in New Zealand and announced himself to the world with a thrilling performance in Australia.

Ferris embraced life as a Lion, enjoying life off the pitch and thriving on it, a certain contender for a Test slot but for a cruel training ground injury.

"That tour was the best time of my life," said Ferris. "It was just amazing. There was a special blend of characters there that just got on brilliantly."

O'Driscoll looks on his time in Africa in a red shirt with the fondest memories, certainly off the field.

He said: "That was a particularly class tour, they just seemed to get that blend of characters right. Even though it was a losing tour, it was an incredibly enjoyable tour. For me it was the most enjoyable one."

O'Driscoll and Ferris share certain personality traits. They are unfailingly modest and engaging company. Time passes quickly with them.

They share a friendship that was forged playing together, but in the infrequent occasions they played against each other in provincial derbies, they got an indication of what their international opponents were facing.

"We barely played against each other, did we Drico?" Ferris asks. "Well, apart from that kicking we got in the Heineken Cup final in 2012"

Both men chuckle.

"Don't worry, I had a fair few bad beatings for Leinster up in Belfast in my early years," O'Driscoll remembers.

Both men have retained their physical fitness. Their experiences are slightly different. O'Driscoll says that his fear concerns fighting any potential of an expanding waistline, whereas Ferris has had to get his jeans taken in due to losing muscle size.

Despite their impressive appearances months after hanging up their boots, both men are troubled by pain. O'Driscoll talks stoically of a back pain, that can be managed, but needs weekly pilates sessions.

Ferris lists off his intensely difficult ankle problems and O'Driscoll nods like a doctor.

"In the end I didn't have a choice about ending my career, the ankle was in pieces. I would be seeing another specialist for another opinion, then another injection," said Ferris.

"The cycle continued. My head knew six months ago that it was probably going to end."

O'Driscoll's international career ended in unforgettable fashion, lifting the Six Nations trophy in Paris.

"I couldn't have gone on, we set ourselves certain standards, and I just wouldn't have been able to make those anymore. I didn't play too many good games last year, but had a few half decent ones. I'm glad to get out on my terms."

A few years separate the men, but their lives will take a different step. O'Driscoll is focused on raising his young daughter and there is a new baby on the way. Ferris is excitedly planning some travel with his girlfriend.

Both men left a huge legacy that will be hard to replace. O'Driscoll laughs at whether they will be remembered. "I intend to make sure when the kids are old enough, they will be made to watch highlight DVDs."

O'Driscoll apologises, he has to leave to get his daughter from the childminder. He insists on paying for the coffees. I go to stop him, but Ferris puts a light hand on my shoulder and winks at O'Driscoll.

"Thanks Drico, very kind of you." The two men shake hands warmly, promising to keep in touch. Two friends who are entering a new chapter in their lives and are all the happier for it.

Belfast Telegraph


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