This man needs no introduction. Coming in at number two on our countdown is one of the greatest rugby players in the history of the sport. We give you, Leinster legend Brian O’Driscoll.
No.2 Brian O’Driscoll
What can be said about Brian O’Driscoll that hasn’t been said before? One of the greatest rugby players of all time and the most capped international in history has had an incredible career. When he walks off the field after the Rabo Pro 12 final on the 31st of May, there will hardly be a dry eye in the place. BOD is one of the few Irish players to have left an indelible mark on the game in the Southern hemisphere. There is no rugby supporter on the planet who doesn’t appreciate the gifts he brought to the field.
The centre has had a glittering career, but probably hasn’t been showered with the silverware his ability deserves. While with Ireland he has won two Six Nations championships, it’s in Europe that he has been most rewarded. Leinster were the most exhilarating side in European club rugby between 2009 and 2013, and with O’Driscoll at the core they annexed three Heineken Cups and an Amlin Challenge Cup in five years. Without having toiled like Munster, and suffering the heartbreak of losing finals before winning them, Leinster swept all before them in an era when they ruled Europe with class and distinction.
While the latter years of his career have been checked by club success, his breakthrough into the global consciousness came in 2001 when he flummoxed the French with a splendid hat trick in Paris, before waltzing his way through the wallabies for the Lions down under.
The Dubliner made his European debut for his province back in 1999 and has stayed the course, competing in every seasons’ competition since. With 87 games under his belt, he sits eight in the all-time appearance list and with 33 tries he has outscored every player in the history of Europe’s premier competition barring Toulouse winger Vincent Clerc. What makes O’Driscoll special is his ability to score tries of true genius, but also to score from close range by burrowing past players twice his size. This try against London Wasps will forever be remembered as one of the greatest scores witnessed in Europe.
Having spent 14 years toying with Europe’s defences, the remarkable thing about O’Driscoll is he kept finding ways to gazump them, and leave them clutching at air. With 133 Irish caps, and a further eight for the British and Irish Lions with whom he travelled four times, and 180 Leinster outings there was no opponent who could truthfully say they had his number. Global recognition has never been in short supply for the centre who has been three times nominated for the IRB World Player of the Year Award. While he has never brought home the gong, it doesn’t diminish the regard in which he is held worldwide.
The prospect of not having the Heineken Cup to look forward to next season will dismay some Irish rugby fans, but the thought of facing into a life without BOD in the number 13 for Leinster or Ireland will be completely alien for a generation who have never experienced anything else. The ability to think on his feet, and to improvise so adeptly helped O’Driscoll prolong a career in the centre at a time when opposing players were getting bigger and stronger with every passing year. His bravery was admirable as he often thrust himself into collisions with reckless abandon for his own wellbeing.
He backboned Leinster’s march to their inaugural European triumph in 2009, when he ran in five tries to head the try scoring charts for that campaign. O’Driscoll hasn’t crossed they try line more than once a season since the 2010-11 tournament but his creative ability opens up gaps for all those around him. This sublime piece of skill is a striking example of the wonderful gifts he possessed.
Few players would have the speed of thought to consider such a move, but fewer still would have the sleight of hand to pull it off.
O’Driscoll has wowed fans, teammates and supporters alike throughout his career and is Ireland’s most loved and cherished sportsman. Having announced at the outset of this campaign that it would be his last, he has had the longest of goodbyes, taking the applause at every stadium he has visited all year. He couldn’t add to his Heineken Cup medal collection, but he has added to an already sizeable list of memories. But don’t take it from me, take it from his fellow professionals…
Ozer McMahon, Pundit Arena.