WELL, wasn’t that nice? Brian O’Driscoll got the send-off he deserved — an emotional Palindrome stood to applaud Ireland’s best player of the professional era for what seemed like a really long time.
It had gotten kind of awkward — everyone was standing around smiling, delighted to have the opportunity to thank one of the greats, without reservation or glances at watches.
A full 10 minutes after the full-time whistle had blown, not a seat had been vacated as Ireland’s rugby fans paid homage. The umbilical cord between players and fans which was severed by the move from the rickety old Lansdowne Road seven years ago seemed restored by 20 minutes of cheering at every glimpse of BOD on the big screen…
It was one of those “I was there” days, and O’Driscoll graced the stadium with a performance stamped with his personality. We have been fortunate to see such a day — not every player gets to end on his own terms — just look at some of O’Driscoll’s illustrious teammates from the Golden Generation:
• David Wallace: carried off in agony on a stretcher in a meaningless RWC11 warm-up
• Jerry Flannery: aborting comebacks until enough was enough
• Ronan O’Gara: the conductor, sent into the wilderness following a shambolic performance in Murrayfield 12 months ago
• Shane Horgan slid quietly out of view for Ireland before injury finished his career
• Even knowing the end is coming in advance doesn’t always work out. Denis Hickie pre-announced his retirement, but the finale came it was in the abominable 2007 World Cup and nobody was in the mood for kiss-blowing goodbyes
At least John Hayes got a Thomond Park goodbye, but his Ireland career finished with even Tony Buckley ahead in the queue; he missed the World Cup squad and that was that.
On Saturday, it helped too that the performance and game were so good — Ireland went out to win by a lot and ended the day 39 points up on the scoreboard.
Devin Toner had possibly his best game yet, Eoin Reddan came off the bench and set the tempo to greased lightning, and Johnny Sexton even pulled off the first successful Randwick Loop in years. Somewhere, ex Munster coach Alan Gaffney is saying “I told you so”.
The bench contributed three tries and really iced the cake — in recent years the 60th minute has marked the time for Ireland to wilt and let the opposition dictate the pace of the game.
Here they kicked on powerfully and professionally. Even Sergio Parisse and Sandro Zanni would have made little difference, though undoubtedly Italy had one eye on next week by the end.
It was also a vindication of Schmidt’s selection, of which we were critical before the game.
Our concern was that without freshening things up, Ireland might have found their eyes flickering forward to Paris, but the focus was razor-sharp. It’s a frequent occurrence that a Schmidt selection raises eyebrows, but after the game it all seems to make perfect sense. Will we never learn?
O’Driscoll himself did speak an uncomfortable truth after the game — that this will all count for very little if we lose in Paris.
Ireland’s mental weakness in the face of the Gitane-smoking, stubble-faced, suave Frenchman will be thoroughly uninteresting to Joe Schmidt — the reality of the situation is that this French team are appalling and we simply must beat them and win the Championship.
If we go out and lose in the Stade, we’ll still remember the fond farewell we gave BOD, but he’ll still retire with just one Championship — nowhere near enough for a player who has contributed more than anyone in the Northern Hemisphere in the last 20 years, except possibly Martin Johnson.
Even among fans, it seems there is still too much deference to French rugby We should fear the backlash, apparently. But what can France lash back with?
And wasn’t the Scotland game supposed to be the backlash to the previous rubbish performance? And the one before that etc.? They play at a glacial tempo, and the likelihood of them suddenly unleashing their inner Jauzion-Clerc-Heymans seems so remote as to be fanciful.
Schmidt, however, would appear to be just the man to cut through any such sentiment and ensure that Ireland have a healthy lack of respect for their opposition. Heck, even Kidney’s stuttering 2012-13 vintage Ireland managed two draws with this lot.
BOD, and we, would prefer silverware to happy-clappy love-ins and we have put ourselves in a position to slay two ghosts — the too-long hang-up about the French and choking within sight of the finish line [don’t mention the Grand Slam; we choked utterly in that game].
Let’s get the great man some more pots to show off in his dotage.