The English language has yet to invent the words that adequately describe how much Brian O’Driscoll means to this country, we have only ringing clichés, but I’m still going to try.
When I was 11 I was at that awkward junction in a boy’s life where he needs something upon which to base the direction of the rest of his life, and I found rugby. More accurately, I found Brian O’Driscoll.
If you want to tie him to adjectives you’ll just echo every pundit from the last 15 years. Brave, tough, creative, genius. You’re still understating. I remember watching him play in 2007 and admiring the clinical nature with which he went about his job, never putting a foot wrong. But this is the case for so many international centres. Fergus McFadden & Jonathan Davies to name but two. What has always separated Brian O’Driscoll is that little spark of magic he seems to possess, that completely intangible breath of brilliance that breezes through him when he calls on it. It is entirely inexplicable yet wondrous. The try against Wasps with the delicious half volley, the out-the-gate pass to Zebo against Wales in 2013, the ‘selfie’ pass against Ulster in 2007, and the pass through his legs against Munster in 2006.
O’Driscoll has always possessed this mesmerising ability to make the game look so upsettingly simple when we know it just isn’t, and this all comes from honed, mastered and hard-crafted ability. He has clearly worked so hard to be the best he can be, and in doing so he has provided us with endless entertainment, and numerous memorable wins, including the most recent victory against France to give Ireland the Six Nations trophy.
The flicks and kicks and no-look passes have constantly baffled his opposition, and rugby as a sport is all about asking the opposition questions and hoping they don’t have the answers. Throughout his career, at club, provincial and international level, Brian O’Driscoll has always asked the question “What are you going to do about me?” No one has ever found the answer.
A captain, a talisman, a prodigal son. A warrior, an inspiration, a revolutionary fighter. A born finisher, a hard shoulder you don’t want to run into, a man who is most at home grounding a ball beneath the posts.
I’m rambling. You see, while so many people have written about his talent on the pitch, to fully understand it you have to be given an insight into the man himself.
We go back to 2000 when Matt Williams was Leinster’s head coach. When the Australian found out that some Leinster players were planning to go to New York on their week’s rest from the Six Nations, he states “I called them in and laid down the law about the high standards I expected from them on their return. A few day later I received a photo of the group, with Driccy at its heart, all dressed in suits, in a classy Manhattan bar, with Cuban cigars and cocktails in hand. The caption read, “Don’t worry, Boss, standards remain very high.” I laughed long and loud. Naughty boys make the best rugby players.“
You can’t underestimate the importance of that cheek, that Irish charm that has endeared him to us and to the rest of the world. It has seen him dye his hair some awful colours, take countless photos with fans, and wind up winning best supporting actor for this magnificent photo in Temple Street hospital with a young patient and the Heineken Cup trophy.
As well as some other gems taken with that same trophy.
Last week over breakfast he also decided of his own accord to ring up Today FM’s Ray Darcy Show to speak to fans who had phoned in claiming they were upset they couldn’t get a photo with him after the Italy match.
We have so much respect for him for his ability on the pitch, but we have fallen hopelessly in love with him for the man that shines through his weather-beaten exterior. Carrying his daughter around the pitch after matches, making public appearances with his beautiful and charming wife, Amy Huberman, and remaining eternally modest and charismatic. I urge you to look up ‘national treasure’ in a dictionary and note his picture beside the definition.
It’s clear that the pre-text to our adjectives, ‘brave, tough, creative, genius’ must be ‘happy, down-to-earth, well-adjusted, caring.’
He played every national game as if it were his last, and sadly the match on the 15th of March in Paris, the city where it all began for him in 2000, was.
That talent with that charm, that leadership and that eternal grit to sacrifice blood and sweat for his nation. The question has now gone from “What are you going to do about me?” to “What are you going to do without me?”
I don’t think we’ll find the answer.