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Leinster still have hold on O’Driscoll’s heart

Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll has given the clearest indication yet that he is willing to finish his career in Ireland with Leinster.

O'Driscoll's contract is due to expire following this year's World Cup and, although he said he is not under pressure to make a decision, his glowing tributes to new Leinster coach Joe Schmidt's impact with the province might make him re-consider his options.

O'Driscoll hinted last year that he might be willing to discuss a move to Stade Francais, where Leinster's Heineken Cup winning coach of 2009, Michael Cheika, is currently based.

With Jamie Heaslip and Jonathan Sexton yet to be offered new deals by the IRFU, Leinster could ill-afford to also lose their talismanic midfield star, who turns 31 tomorrow.

And he had also hinted at retirement in recent times but ahead of Leinster's trip to Paris to face Racing Metro in the Heineken Cup round six clash tomorrow, O'Driscoll declared that he may shelve talk of retirement.

“I'm feeling good,” he said. “Feeling like I'm not ready to go yet, fit, more importantly I'm really enjoying what I'm doing, more so maybe than I did for many years.

“As long as I still have that hunger I don't feel I'm ready to give up so we we'll see over the next while, I don't want to put any crazy pressure on myself to declare as to how long I want to go.

“But I feel at the moment that I have plenty more good rugby to give and particularly with this competition I'm thriving on it and enjoying it. It's a bit different from previous seasons, there were times maybe when it might have been easier to get into teams but now the tougher it gets sometimes the more enjoyable it gets.

“Sometimes you feel even more fulfilled when you've produced when you've really merited getting on the team because guys have been pushing you very hard.

“Make a decision time? I'm not stressing or anything, enjoying things at the moment and as the Six Nations comes through I'll reassess things, the World Cup will be on us before long and I'm sure some decision will be made before that.”

O’Driscoll is gearing up for another Six Nations assault and Ireland yesterday named a 32-man squad for the championship.

Uncapped Connacht forward Mike McCarthy joins the familiar faces in the panel.

The 29-year-old back-row player, who previously played for Newcastle, is rewarded following consistently impressive displays in this season's Magners League.

Leinster back Luke Fitzgerald and Ulster hooker Rory Best return after suffering injuries during Ireland's autumn Test series, but Leicester captain Geordan Murphy misses out.

The Tigers full-back suffered a serious ankle injury during his club's Aviva Premiership win against Northampton earlier this month, and it is thought he could struggle to play again this season. And there is also no place for Munster scrum-half Tomas O'Leary, who has to be content with a place in the Irish Wolfhounds squad as Eoin Reddan and Peter Stringer are preferred as the senior number nines.

Ireland kick off their Six Nations campaign against Italy in Rome on February 5.

Coach Declan Kidney said: “As always, the selection of the squad is never an easy one, but certainly the level of competition in each position is probably as great as it has ever been over the last two years.

“Players have been really pushing their performances for their provinces, so that level of competition can only be good.

“That translates into more competition for each place in the squad, and then for the first selection against Italy, which can only be a good thing coming into the championship.

“As we know from last year and every other time we have faced Italy, they represent a greater threat every year.

“The addition of their teams in the Magners League is building their experience, and I think that will have an even greater influence on their national side for the championship. The key for us is to work hard in setting the foundations for the tournament in our first week in camp.”

Ireland Six Nations squad

Backs: T Bowe (Ospreys), G D'Arcy (Leinster), G Duffy (Connacht), K Earls (Munster), L Fitzgerald (Leinster), S Horgan (Leinster), R O' Gara (Munster), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, captain), E Reddan (Leinster), J Sexton (Leinster), P Stringer (Munster), A Trimble (Ulster), P Wallace (Ulster).

Forwards: R Best (Ulster), T Court (Ulster), S Cronin (Connacht), L Cullen (Leinster), S Ferris (Ulster), J Flannery (Munster), J Hayes (Munster), C Healy (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster), S Jennings (Leinster), D Leamy (Munster), M McCarthy (Connacht), D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster), S O'Brien (Leinster), M O'Driscoll (Munster), M Ross (Leinster), R Ruddock (Leinster), D Wallace (Munster).

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