He may have hung up that number 13 jersey for good but Brian O'Driscoll is still one of the most respected voices in all of rugby. Having embraced punditry following his retirement from the game, the man they called BOD has traded the dressing room for the analysts booth as part of his role for BT Sports and, as part of that role, is considered to be the best possible person to quiz on the future of Irish rugby.
Appearing today at the launch of Eir Sport at Dublin's HSQ Building, the first order of business was to quiz him on the recent (temporary) addition of World Cup winning All Black coach Graham Henry to Leo Cullen's coaching ticket at Leinster. It's a move, O'Driscoll says, which could hugely benefit Cullen and the province as a whole.
Speaking to Balls.ie, he said:
I’m intrigued as to how much value Graham Henry will add. I’m sure it’ll be substantial.
He’s won the ultimate competition in the world in a very, very pressurised situation. I’m sure both from a personal point of view Leo will learn an awful lot and also from a coaching aspect, as to what skillset he has brought to the All Blacks. There is hope that we might get a bit of his knowledge and understanding as to how he sees the game moving forward and how he sees Leinster as a team evolving.
O'Driscoll doesn't anticipate too much of a change in approach when Henry joins Cullen at the Leinster training facility in Clonskeagh at the end of July. It's important, he says, that the players realise that Henry is just there on a consultancy basis. There is just one man in charge, even if O'Driscoll says that it was likely that Cullen was "thrown in the deep end before he anticipated he'd get his chance".
Leo, of course, can’t lose the power. It can’t be Graham’s voice. It will be Graham adding to Leo’s voice.
I think it should enhance Leinster’s culture which maybe, by the sounds of things, has slipped a small bit and bring in [situations] where mediocrity won’t be acceptable. I think that should be the starting point.
Eir CEO Mickey O'Rourke and Brian O'Driscoll today
Now 37, O'Driscoll has assembled a portfolio of different working projects to keep him busy in life after rugby. The financial crash of 2008, he says, served as a grim reminder that he needed to prepare himself for when his body was no longer able to withstand the rigours of being a professional rugby player.
While his career was bullet-pointed by some significant injuries, O'Driscoll at least got to retire when he wanted - a luxury which unfortunately eluded Luke Fitzgerald.
It really must be very, very difficult. Form Luke’s point of view, he did get to have some success. He got to play for Ireland. He got to win a Grand Slam. He was involved in Six Nations victories. Even though it’s difficult, you look back on players like Eoin O’Malley as well and it must be heart-breaking when you don’t even get to achieve a cap when it was absolutely warranted.
It was difficult leaving as a 35-year-old knowing that your time is up, so I can’t imagine how difficult it is when you’re not called on your own terms.
It was particularly disappointing for O'Driscoll to see Fitzgerald depart the game because, as he says, he is exactly the type of talent you need in depth for Ireland to compete to a level where they one day may compete for a World Cup. A depth level of about 200 high- level professionals is what O'Driscoll says is around the magic number to aspire to which, with the current provincial structure in the game, is next to impossible to impose.
As show by the recent success of the Under 20's, O'Driscoll does say that the grassroots level in Irish rugby - the very same one which produced him - is continuing to flourish.
We can’t just concoct another province out of nowhere and start building it. It’s a reality that you do need massive competitiveness. Grassroots is obviously vital. We’ve seen some players getting lost in the professional game but finding their way back in via the AIL.
Young players need to play. If the standard at schools level and youth level and club level is brought through, then we will see the standard improve at AIL as well, which will have a positive knock-on effect into the professional game.
I’m not a strategist where I can make that all happen but I am in a position where I can say I do think it’s important because it does all lead to more competition, better standards and more people playing too.
And in a rugby system which is currently yielding the likes of Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw and Ultan Dillane, the future is looking bright for Irish rugby.
Brian O'Driscoll was speaking at the launch of eir Sport, formerly Setanta Sports and the eir Sport Pack. The eir Sport pack includes eir Sport 1 and eir Sport 2; BT Sport 1, BT Sport 2, BT Sport Europe and BT Sport ESPN. The eir Sport Pack is now free to all existing and new eir broadband customers. eir Sport has also secured the rights to the 2019 Rugby World Cup and 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup. eir Sport was formerly Setanta Sports.
Image ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan