"It's miles easier playing than it is watching" - O'Driscoll
"The stresses are far more accentuated in the stands than they are out on the pitch, for sure."
Rugby matches, like all other sports, are made and decided by thousands of individual moments, choices and actions. The majority of these go relatively unnoticed; an unused line, a short pass. Some of them are remembered for the wrong reasons; a knock on at a crucial moment, a dropped grounding, a miscued lineout. But some are etched into the history books, immortalised in fans' anecdotes and replayed in montages for years to come. You probably have one in your head already. Moments make sport. Brian O'Driscoll is known for plenty himself. He was a part of even more.
Ronan O'Gara's drop goal against Wales in 2009 is very much a "where were you?" event for Irish sport. It has always provided everything we wish for in a sporting moment; drama, tension, excitement and supreme skill under pressure. With 77 and a half minutes on the clock, it looked like O'Gara and Ireland had delivered the first Grand Slam in 61 years. But, as always seems the case, there was another twist in the tale. Wales and Stephen Jones would have one more opportunity to snatch the Grand Slam, if not the title, from Irish hands.
Like most great sporting moments, the soundtrack in our heads is inevitably that of the commentator's words. What they utter in those seconds become synonymous with the event itself. Ryle Nugent's line "Ronan O'Gara. Drop at goal... Grand Slam at stake... He's got it!" is the perfect backing track to such an iconic kick. But there's another one in his commentary that's interesting. As Ireland set up for a lineout in the Welsh 22 prior to that O'Gara drop goal, with time running out, a point down and what must be the weight of the world resting on those players, he asks; "Four minutes. And you look to O'Gara, and you look to the drop goal, and you wonder; how much pressure can one player take?".
The answer, is quite a lot.
Speaking to SportsJOE, Irish captain that day Brian O'Driscoll recalled his own memories in the seconds, and minutes, after O'Gara's drop goal;
"When it went over, I think we thought 'we just have to be able to see it out now'. All you can think about is that next moment, trying to regather the kick-off. There's every likelihood that they're going to go short and try and regain the ball back themselves rather than kick deep. So you know the things that are likely to come at you and then to be able to deal with that pressure situation. It's miles easier playing than it is watching in those environments. And then when they did get the ball back it was just about trusting our defensive system and trying to talk to one another about not giving away a penalty. And alas, we did, and then I thought 'God, what a kick in the teeth that is... we'll still win the Championship on points difference, but it'll feel like a hollow victory because we want that elusive Grand Slam'. Thankfully, the kick went a metre short."
While most fans in the stands, in pubs or at home watched through knitted fingers, half-finished pints or from behind the shelter of a cushion, Ireland stolidly went through the phases until O'Gara was in the pocket and in front of the posts. He caught it perfectly, turning with his hands aloft in celebration before the ball had even passed over the bar, before checking the clock in the stadium and setting for the incoming Welsh restart and inevitable, desperate assault. Sports stars live for these clutch moments. They prepare endlessly for them. As O'Driscoll said; it's easier to be playing in those moments than watching them.
It's an interesting premise, and one perhaps that fans never consider. We assume that if those watching can barely do that simple job, surely the ones in the cauldron itself must feel the heat more than anyone else? O'Driscoll says that's not the case;
"You can't have any effect on the game as a spectator, whereas as a player you know you have ownership of what happens. Yes, it's a team sport, but you're a link in that chain to be able to get that job done. You can make a tackle or you can have an impact in attack that could be the difference between winning and losing a game, and having that control is something that I've missed as an injured player or less so as a retired player. But certainly when throughout your professional career when you haven't been able to play a game for one reason or another, it's a tough place to be and the stresses are far more accentuated in the stands than they are out on the pitch, for sure."
Given the choice, he would slot himself into a position where he knows he can impact the outcome. The powerlessness of being a fan is what the vast majority of us know, and love or hate in equal measure at times. Moments, by their definition, will only ever be fleeting. But they have the potential to endure and last far beyond their nature, similar perhaps to those who create them.
You can hear more from O'Driscoll on life as a fan, Irish rugby in the early 200s and why Irish fans may only realise how good Rob Kearney is now he isn't there in the full interview below;
Pictured on his home home turf in Clontarf, Brian O’Driscoll has teamed up with GUINNESS to launch a host of GUINNESS SIX NATIONS experiences which celebrate a fusion of the six competing nations inspired cultures through events available to the public. The first experience on 31st January, will be a hike along the iconic Howth Head followed by a meal in a local pub, hosted by former on field rival rugby internationals, Tommy Bowe and Thom Evans. Those wishing to secure a spot on the hike should email GuinnessSixNationsExperiences@ogilvy.com with their name, date of birth and mobile phone number by 23:59 on Tuesday, 28th January. Over 18's only. For full terms and conditions and further information on ticketing and open to the public details for all experiences, visit www.guinness.com.