Mick O’Driscoll may have called time on his own playing career but as Munster prepare for a summer of upheaval, the outgoing lock believes his province has not reached the end of an era.
O’Driscoll’s Munster career ended on a bitterly disappointing note in Swansea on Friday night as a rampant Ospreys inflicted a 45-10 drubbing on their Irish visitors to reach the RaboDirect Pro12 final later this month against Leinster.
The five-try to one defeat also brought the curtain down on Tony McGahan’s four-year tenure as director of coaching, while the former Ireland second row will be one of at least nine players leaving Munster, among them fellow retirees Jerry Flannery and David Wallace.
O’Driscoll, who played 207 times for Munster in a 14-year spell punctuated by two seasons in Perpignan, collected two Heineken Cup medals along the way but his departure makes him the 17th member of the 22-man match-day squad from the first European final victory in 2006 to have bade farewell from the province.
Talk of the end of an era, though, is way over the top, the 33-year-old believes.
“People have been saying this since 2006,” O’Driscoll said. “That was the first time that was mooted. We’ve gone on since then, won the European Cup in 2008, then the Magners League as it was, so I don’t see it as an end of an era.
“Look at the average age of the lads in the starting 15 against Ospreys. We’ve had that side out a lot of times this year. Is that the end of an era? Absolutely not.”
O’Driscoll backed the players in the Munster set-up, including the emerging younger generation, to lift the province back to the highest level of European rugby.
“It takes time but these guys have played plenty of rugby and next season it’s start afresh. They’re going to have to stand up and turn things around.
“The end of an era has been mentioned and, granted, we didn’t make the knockout stages of Europe last season. But this season, we reached the knockout stages of Europe, semi-final of the RaboDirect and we’re doing that with a lot of guys coming in and a lot of guys coming out.
The Corkman also believes new head coach Rob Penney, who will arrive in mid-July from New Zealand to replace McGahan, backed by forwards coach Anthony Foley, are well equipped to take Munster forward.
“He’s got a big job, there’s no hiding the fact,” O’Driscoll said of Penney, “but he’s got plenty of talent there, plenty of guys to work with.
He’ll also have Axel as his forwards coach, a good Munster man behind him, so I don’t see it as being a massive job.
“It’s a big job, don’t get me wrong but it’s something, from what I’ve heard about him, that he’ll be well able to handle and, starting next season, hopefully we’ll be back where we belong. I think we’ll just drive it on from there.”
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