Johnny Sexton thought of Ronan O’Gara as he drank in the scenes at the Aviva Stadium last Saturday week after Ireland had secured their Grand Slam and the players and staff got to share the moment with a stubbornly full stadium and their families.
The Ireland captain had wrestled sole ownership of the all-time Six Nations points scoring record from his old rival and friend earlier that same evening but he hadn’t thought of him at the time. Not until that valedictory lap of honour.
O’Gara, he thought, didn’t get to say his goodbyes like this. The Munster out-half’s Test career had ended with a brief and forgettable cameo in a loss to Scotland in Murrayfield. Proof again that even the most gilded of careers can lack a fitting end.
Sexton’s time in shorts might yet come with the most dramatic of send-offs if Ireland can trump their Six Nations form and do something extraordinary at the World Cup, but it looks like his Leinster career may have faded away without anyone realising it at the time.
When a club releases a statement saying it is ‘likely’ that their key player will miss the rest of the season then you can shove your stash of chips into the centre of the table and bet that their campaign is indeed done.
We are highly unlikely to see him in blue again.
The last of his 189 appearances for the province came on New Year’s Day with a convincing win over Connacht at the RDS in front of over 17,000. Not a bad stage to have left it at, but not the return to the Aviva that he had planned for May either.
And, as with his Six Nations exit against England, Sexton left that evening back in January more concerned with the effects of an injury – in that case, a facial injury – than the applause of an appreciative crowd. So it goes.
It’s an annoying way to go.
For five years now Sexton and others have spoken about their desire to add a fifth star to the Leinster shirt but the injury update the club released on Monday means Leo Cullen & Co. will have to make do without him from here on in as they chase that Champions Cup.
And another league title, of course.
Leinster are accustomed to that. Ross Byrne has deputised with next to no fuss for some time now - he has even started some finals - but there isn’t any denying that they will be less of a collective for Sexton’s absence between now and the summer.
For the player himself it is a cruel way to bring down the curtain on a relationship that stretches back to the late noughties when he made his debut against the now defunct Border Reivers but there will be only minor ripples for Ireland.
If Sexton doesn’t play for the next two months or more then it means he can’t pick up a level of injury that puts his World Cup in doubt. It also means that he has the bones of five months without any game time in his legs.
Not ideal, clearly, but then everyone will be starting from scratch once the various nations reconvene for their pre-seasons in high summer and Sexton will hardly be alone in reporting for duty refreshed and ready to go after a longer period on the sidelines.
This is not how he wanted it but the fairytale ending can still be his.