One of my American friends is getting into rugby, and given the timing I thought, how can you explain Brian O'Driscoll to someone unfamiliar to rugby? It occurs to me that current Irish school children may not even be aware of the impact that this one man has had on this beautiful game. O'Driscoll was the first Irish rugby superstar, helped by the advent of professionalism, and through his career, the landscape of rugby in Ireland has skyrocketed. Irish rugby was in a bad place in the 1990's, results were poor and the level of interest was confined to televised 6 Nations games, but three things changed all that. Professionalism was introduced in 1995, coupled with the Heineken Cup, allowing the best club and provincial teams to play each other more often, and the start of Brian O'Driscoll's career.
The Prodigy Years
Despite being the reserve scrumhalf in the all conquering Blackrock college team of 1996, O'Driscoll was brought into the Irish set up quickly, and at the age of 19, made his debut for Ireland before he'd featured for his home province. This is an extremely rare occurrence, almost unheard of actually, with only Michael Bent achieving something similar in bizarre circumstances in 2012. Unlike Bent, O'Driscoll's class was apparent from the start, with teammates saying "We all knew there was something special about the guy and he was going to kick on. We all knew he had the X-Factor as they say now" from an early age.
O'Driscoll though, took it in his stride and in 2000 in Paris, he announced himself to Europe. Ireland hadn't won a rugby game in France in 28 years, and this French team had been to the World Cup semi final a year previously. Not much was expected of Ireland, but for those who don't already know what happened, I'll let the video tell the story.
O'Driscoll was about to lead a crop of talented youngsters, the likes of which Irish rugby had never seen before, through the golden generation. The wider world, and the southern hemisphere were announced to his attacking brilliance on the 2001 Lions tour to Australia.
What makes Brian O'Driscoll different to all other outstanding players in any sport is his determination. His defensive play is the strength of his game, and his intelligence and knowledge of the game keep him ahead of everyone in attack. When someone as colossal as Paul O'Connell says about O'Driscoll, that he'd be the first person he'd want in the trenches beside him, you know it means something. O'Driscoll is never one to shirk a challenge, and always put his body on the line for Leinster and Ireland. He lead that generation up and made them believe that no longer were Ireland there just to make up numbers, but that they were good enough to win silverware.
It may have taken a long time, but in 2004, Ireland won their first Triple Crown in 19 years. That wasn't enough for O'Driscoll, as this was achieved again in 2006, and a third time in 2007. In 2007 though, there was a feeling of regret, because none of these Triple Crowns brought with it a 6 Nations title. But this was to come later. The Irish people were slowing being brought into the culture of rugby.
It's amazing to think that he is as good as he is, even though his eyesight is as bad as it is. Because his vision to see things that others don't is out of this world. Perhaps that would explain why some of these pieces of brilliance have happened.
By 2009, the whole country was on the edge of their seats. Playing Wales in the deciding game of the 6 Nations had grown men crying, and non sporty women screaming. BOD was at the peak of his powers. 4 tries in the tournament; a combination of brilliant attacking running lines, defensive awareness and digging in the trenches, O'Driscoll inspired Ireland to the 6 Nations title and their first Grand Slam for 62 years.
A first Heineken Cup followed that year, and awards reigned down on Ireland's favourite son. The IRB award for player of the decade followed, giving you a hint at how highly he was regarded in the rugby world.
Still Got It
Despite claims that he's "past it" since 2009, O'Driscoll continued winning trophies, with two more Heineken Cups to follow in 2011 and 2012, while still producing the same magic that lit up our screens more than a decade ago. It takes a special kind of player to maintain the level of consistency required to reach 100 caps, and last weekend, Brian O'Driscoll broke the world record for the number of international rugby matches played in, at 140. This Saturday v France, will be his 141st and final appearance on the international stage.
Brian O'Driscoll: Finishing his career with an Irish record 46 tries and a world record 141 appearances.
The epitome of a Lion
It's a huge achievement to become a British and Irish Lion. To be considered one of the best in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales is one of the top honours for a rugby player from those countries. A bigger achievement to do it twice. O'Driscoll is one of a very selective few who went on four tours - 2001, 2005, 2009 and 2013. Not only that, but he was selected as captain on the ill fated tour to New Zealand in 2005.
In each tour, you can get a glimpse of the character and talent of O'Driscoll. You've seen the wonderous try against Australia in 2001, but in 2009 he showed his toughness with a huge hit on the massive Danie Roussouw (below).
Add to that, the reaction of the public in 2005, when Tana Umaga and Kevin Mealamu spear tackled him in the first minute of the first test, breaking his collarbone tells you a lot about how he is viewed in the public. Perhaps more enlightening was the reaction to seeing him dropped from the deciding test in 2013.
Despite a few dodgy haircuts throughout the years, O'Driscoll is firmly held in a positive light throughout the world. His approachability, and humour paint him as a likable guy even without the strings of fame that come with dragging Irish rugby out of the doldrums.
Not only that, but his charity work sets him apart as a stand up guy, and when children like this say nice things about you then...
I guess there is nothing more to say than: Thank you Brian