Brian O’Driscoll has outlined how being overlooked for the 2009 IRB Player of the Year was one of the biggest disappointments of his career, while the Grand Slam win that year was one of the highlights.
O’Driscoll, whose autobiography The Test is due to be released on Thursday, said he feared the worst when Stephen Jones lined up a potential match-winning penalty in the dying moments of their Grand Slam decider and as a result it took him some time to start celebrating it.
“When the stress and the relief begin to subside, perhaps within 10 or 15 seconds they are slowly replaced by an overwhelming, life-changing, unforgettable joy. Everywhere I look I see grown men hugging – players, physios, support staff and then the coaches.
“The great Jack Kyle, now 83 and out-half in the Ireland team that last won a Slam in 1948, comes down from the stand and shakes my hand during our lap of honour. It’s a thrill to see him so pleased.”
But his hopes of crowning that fantastic year by winning IRB individual award, ended in disappointment.
“The following November straight after our win over South Africa in Dublin, I’m fully alert for the announcement of the 2009 IRB player of the year. There’s a shortlist of seven — Richie McCaw, Fourie du Preez, Francois Steyn, Matt Giteau, Tom Croft, Jamie Heaslip and me.
“Just being in the frame was the target I set myself when I was feeling low last December,” he recalls. “But after the biggest year of my career — a Grand Slam and a Heineken Cup, top try scorer in both tournaments — I’ve raised my hopes higher. It’s the one time in my life when I want an individual reward. I hear the winner’s name: Richie McCaw. I made to hide my disappointment from most people but dad sees it a mile off. The next week, he writes me a four-page letter, some of which will always remain between the two of us. He knows what to say to pick me back up.”
But sporting disappointments are put in their place by the shock and sadness he encountered following the death of his best friend Barry Twomey by suicide in 2008.
It had an enormous impact on O’Driscoll and he came close to resigning as Ireland captain in the aftermath.
He said that sessions with sports psychologist Enda McNulty helped him come to terms with the events of that summer which also included being arrested and charged with assault in New York.
O’Driscoll said that he believes the Lions would have won the Test in Australia in any event had he not been controversially dropped by Warren Gatland.
He said when he saw Gatland and Rob Howley approaching him on the Wednesday before the final Test in Sydney he knew it wasn’t good but nothing prepared him for the shock news.
“I’m fearing the worst but already computing that if bad news is coming there are different degrees of disappointment: 1) You’re not captain. 2) You’re in the 23, but you’re not starting. 3) You’re not playing. The team room is empty, apart from two banks of chairs, left and right. We pull some around and Gats gets straight to the point — ‘This isn’t easy, but we don’t have a place for you this weekend’.
“The last time someone gave me news like this, I was a schoolboy. It takes all the wind out of me and I can barely get any words out. ‘Oh…right.’ We walk back out after what seems like less than a minute.”
In an extract which appeared in The Sunday Times, O’Driscoll said it was difficult in the build-up to the game and hard to watch it when it came round.
“On Saturday, I feel different emotions watching the 41-16 win. Foxy (Jonathan Davies) has played well, Jamie has scored a good try. But I’ve got to believe I could have had some of those moments myself, that we’d still have won with me on the pitch.
“The controversy over my omission doesn’t go away when I’m back on home soil. The last thing I want to do is feed it, but that’s exactly what I end up achieving when I agree to a Sky Sports interview with Shane Horgan.
“Do you resent him (Warran Gatland) a bit, for the decision?”
“There are any number of ways I can answer so that my life for the next six months becomes considerably easier.
“Instead of evasion, I offer him honesty.
“Yeah, there’s resentment – of course.”
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