For his man of the match performance against Wales and his constant ability to prove the doubters wrong, JOE's Hero of the Week is the one and only Brian O'Driscoll.
You’d think that people would have learned to stop writing off Brian O’Driscoll by now, but that certainly didn’t seem to be the case in the build-up to the Welsh game last weekend.
He’s not the player of old, some said. His body simply can’t take any more punishment, others opined. Concerns were raised about his ability to cope against the giant Welsh centre pairing, while one eccentric and well-known RTE pundit suggested that it was one Six Nations too many for probably our greatest ever player.
Had they not learned their lesson? In 2008, some thought O’Driscoll was finished after he suffered something of a crisis in confidence, but he was the single biggest driving force in Ireland’s Grand Slam success the following year, scoring tries in all but one Six Nations encounter and winning the Player of the Tournament while he was at it.
Bafflingly, he missed out on the IRB Player of the Year award with the authorities deciding to give it instead to Richie McCaw, whose greatness is not in doubt, but who was something of a default selection between 2005 and 2010, winning it three times in five years.
After the World Cup in 2011, obituaries were written for O’Driscoll once again after he finally decided to get something done about the shoulder that had basically being hanging off him for many months prior to the tournament. Instead, as is his wont, he came back ahead of schedule and performed as if he had never been away at all, playing a crucial role in Leinster’s third Heineken Cup success.
Despite that comeback, the doubters were out in force again when O’Driscoll was sidelined again for a while this season and it seems as if he can’t sit down for an interview these days without being asked if this is his last Six Nations, if the Lions Tour will be his swansong and the inevitable question for any rugby player in their 30s, what he plans to do when he eventually hangs up his boots.
We’d imagine it’s frustrating for O’Driscoll to face constant questions considering all he’s done for Ireland, but to be honest, maybe we should keep doubting him because there’s nothing he likes more, it seems, than proving people wrong.
Against Wales, he was magnificent, cutting the Welsh defence open with a brilliant pass for Simon Zebo’s try and doing his usual additional flanker act in what was a heroic Irish defensive performance.
He scored one of those close-range tries he specialises in to open daylight between the sides early in the second half and if there was one criticism of his display, it was his frankly terrible attempt at a box-kick when he filled in at scrum-half while Conor Murray was sidelined.
In the RTE studio, the aforementioned RTE pundit was saying how it was great to see O’Driscoll in the whole of his health and how his pass to Zebo was the greatest he had EVER seen. Half-joking Lions team sheets did the rounds online featuring O’Driscoll as the only man on the Lions team sheet... at 9 and 13, while rugby observers worldwide queued up to pay their tributes once again.
Being honest about it, some of the praise seemed to be in compensation for having even questioned him in the first place and although not many argued with his man of the match award, some would say that Sean O’Brien, for instance, was a more deserving recipient.
O’Driscoll doesn’t need any token praise in his direction, nor does he need questions about his ability to still be able to make an impact at the highest level. Age hasn’t affected him, injury hasn’t affected him, nor has the loss of the captaincy. As he said himself on Off the Ball during the week, the only difference as he sees it is that he’s not going for the coin toss and he doesn’t have to make after-dinner speeches; he’s still a leader on the pitch even if he’s not wearing the armband.
We should appreciate him in the here and now, leave him to do what he does best and leave the reminiscing until he actually decides to leave on his own terms and not because public opinion told him to do so.
Lord knows we’ll miss him when he does.