Leinster and Irish centre Brian O’Driscoll relived his early days at the Province earlier today as his retirement draws near. The RDS may regularly draw large crowds to games including those against lower sides such as Treviso, but its a far cry from the humble crowds of O’Driscolls first season at Leinster.
“Back in the early days a bit, I remember getting text messages as to where certain training sessesions were going to be held. It could be in St Andrews, Old Belvedere or UCD. It was very hard to get any kind of stability when you are bouncing around like that.
“When we got our base in David Lloyd and come up here (to UCD) last year, we built on that and married that with the talent that was always there with an ability to work hard for one another. We got sick of playing second fiddle to other teams, other Provinces who had won the Heineken and we wanted a little bit for ourselves.”
The transition from European no hopers to triple Heineken Champions has been one which he has seen develop gradually but it doesn’t appear the Province will go back to their former form of mediocrity.
“Without a shadow of doubt. (It was a matter of) Changing the culture in our environment, both the set up here with Mick Dawson and his team and Michael Cheika and the team and structures he put in place helped us grow, gave us a home. Our mentality changed thereafter and marrying that with talent and hard work aspect brought us to a good place.
“That has to be our standard for all our guys coming through the academy that see what it entails being a Leinster player and being involved in this organisation – that is the minimum requirement. It’s nice to come from where we did in 1999 to leave Leinster in a good place and be part of that transition and to help it get to where it has come.”
There were lows along the way with Heineken Cup tears shed, but the former Irish captain stated that those were a driving force in getting Leinster to where they are today. Three Heineken Cups and one Amlin trophy later would suggest that the Province has turned the tide.
“I am a big believer that those lows they do happen for a reason, to drive the desire as well. If you look back at the semi-final in 2003 in Lansdowne Road when we should have been in a Heineken final against Toulouse, we lost to Perpignan.
“You look to ’06 when we got beaten out the gate by Munster. That fueled the desire and you had to rely on that, in subsequent games to be able to get yourself up to go the extra yard, push yourself that extra couple of percent.
“I wouldn’t go back and change a whole lot. I’m glad that transition took it’s time and I had to live those early years. We won the first Celtic League, but didn’t win another one until 2008. Going without any success in that period of time definitely drove the desire to go on and win a few Heineken Cups and constantly strive for excellence. To answer your question, I wouldn’t change a whole lot.”
Each game against Munster, added O’Driscoll means that bit more since it was the team he made his Provincial debut against.
“I was in a strange situation of playing for Ireland before I played my first full cap with Leinster so I played a few Leinster A games and then got injured and it was a very different set up than it is now.
“There was no Rabo league back then, we didn’t have a great history of getting out of the group stages of the Heineken Cup back in those days. I remember my first game down in Cork Constitution against Munster in Templehill and losing it. You’re first game in any jersey is always memorable.
“There is huge pride in wearing it for the first time but then when you lose a game to one of the Provinces that become one of your biggest rivals, you start building from that very first game against Munster. That is why I have always enjoyed playing against them and always winning. Maybe that has something to do with it.”
So what of the 13 jersey without the man himself wearing the blue jersey?
“Absolutely, great place. There is great talent coming through. We are in a good place here, with Zane (Kirchner) who can play 13 and played for South Africa, Lukey (Fitzgerald), D’Arce can play there, Ferg (McFadden) can play there, (Brendan) Macken coming through.
“Even young guys who are going to come through from the sub-academy have shown promise, so we are in a very good place. It’s weird because you want to be missed, but you want the province to go well. You don’t want the team to be any way disjointed so it’s a little bit of a double-edged sword.”