Irish rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll spoke candidly about his hopes of making it to the Rugby World Cup semi finals on Wednesday night, when he addressed a large crowd at the New York Athletic Club.
Hosted by the Irish Network New York City (IN-NYC) and Dillon Eustace, the annual speaker event proved to be a highlight of the organization's social calendar.
Thousands of miles away from his hometown of Dublin, O’Driscoll drew a crowd of 250 people, made up of ex-pats, Americans and immigrants for a lively conversation that lasted almost an hour.
Newstalk’s “Off the Ball” producer Mark Horgan conducted the night’s Q&A session with the Lions captain. A visible rapport between the pair resulted in an engaging and at times controversial line of questioning, much to the delight of the audience.
Speaking about the approaching Rugby World Cup, the Irish captain spoke about the
team’s realistic expectations.
Learning from their disappointing result of 2007, O’Driscoll said the team was guilty “of talking ourselves up way too much”, resulting in a more level-headed approach going forward.
“I do think there is a belief within the squad now that we are capable of certainly getting to a semi final,” he said regarding the upcoming challenge.
“So rather than going, yeah we can absolutely win it. Why not just get yourself into the knock out stages and into the quarter finals and try and win that.”
“We are a far more consistent squad and I think there is now strength in depth there.”
O’Driscoll, a regular visitor to New York spoke with candor about the highs and lows of his career and the honor of representing his home country as captain of the Irish rugby team.
“It is the ultimate to put on your green jersey and I truly love it,” O’Driscoll said.
“For me it’s a given that when you are selected for your country, it is such a huge honor.”
He continued: “I have always played into the belief that you are only ever borrowing the jersey, you never own the jersey because someone has gone before you and there is going to be someone after you, so it’s a case of giving the jersey maximum respect.”
On the Irish soccer team’s current troubles, O’Driscoll reflected a level of respect seems to be missing among the team.
“I think that with guys that are turning down international call ups, I don’t think they are giving the jersey the respect and I don’t think they should be considered for selection for when the so called more ‘interesting games’ are there to be played and there to be won.”
O’Driscoll who had led the Leinster team to unprecedented Heineken Cup success, spoke with humility about the camaraderie between him and his fellow Leinster team mates.
“When you compare the teams in the early two thousands to the one at the moment, they are worlds apart. The unity we have in the squad now is unparallel,” O’Driscoll admitted.
“I think we have really developed a great bond, and I think it has shown on the pitch in the last three or four seasons.
“As a result there is no denying we have managed to win two Heineken Cups in the last three years as a result of that.
“The victory is always sweeter…winning things with friends.”
The feeling of solidarity was echoed by his Leinster team mate Gordon D’arcy who recently remarked that he would “walk in front of a car for those fellas."
O’Driscoll was named as World Rugby player of the decade (2000-2009) by the Rugby World Magazine last year and it seems his focus on winning remains strong.
“You always enjoy whatever you win and I will remember that first Heineken Cup win and Grand Slam-- that was fantastic, but then you park that and you look forward to the pre season again knowing OK we can try and recreate that.
“All of those are very special moments and you don’t want them to end so when they do end you think alright how I can get them back?
“All I can do is play the best that I can and if everyone has that mentality then you are onto something good,” he reflected.
With an impressive 106 test caps under his belt, O’Driscoll admitted few things in life were comparable to relishing victory alongside his teammates.
“The feeling of sitting in a dressing room after winning a really hard game and not having to say anything and just sit there in silence with your team mates…that is a very, very special feeling and I am not sure it can be recreated in any other sphere of life.”
As an insightful interlude, a prepared Horgan had sourced some questions from the rugby stars teammates which led to some interesting disclosures.
After revealing his ‘breakfast of champions’ in the past has included chicken nuggets and pallets of Coca Cola, the rugby star shared details of a memorable night in New York’s Meatpacking District with his fellow teammates in 2007.
Upon leaving the premises after a few too many, the rising star slipped and fell much to the horror of the on looking bouncer who shouted “but Brian what about the World Championships in France?”
“Thankfully I was a larger gentleman back in those days and the padding did break my fall,” he laughed.
After taking several questions from an audience the night’s dialogue drew to a close before the cocktail reception continued.
Speaking to IrishCentral, Gina Reilly, the Chair of IN-NYC described the night as a huge success.
“It is huge for the network, without a doubt he is one of the biggest wide ranging, appealing personalities that we have ever had.”
*****Pick up a copy of next week’s Irish Voice newspaper to read about O’Driscoll’s favorite U.S. sportsman.