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O'Driscoll Could Play Off Scratch

Dermot Gilleece profiles the Irish Rugby Star

Posted Apr 26, 2011 by Dermot Gilleece


With newspaper headlines attempting to shock us by highlighting former British prime ministers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, as absentees from the guest list, it seems unthinkable that anybody would actually pass up the opportunity of being there.  Well, it seems that Ireland’s rugby captain, Brian O’Driscoll, is declining an invitation to the Royal Wedding, because of Heineken Cup commitments with Leinster on Saturday.

There is no indication as to how his wife, Amy, feels about this.  When questioned on television recently, she made it clear that she wielded no clout in such matters.  It was strickly BOD’s decision: he was the one William and Kate wanted there.

For his part, O’Driscoll has so far kept his lips sealed, presumably out of respect for the occasion. But it is nothing new for him to be making sacrifices for what has been a glittering career in rugby.  He has been doing it with his golf game for several years now.

O’Driscoll is as a nine-handicap member of The Royal Dublin and Seafield clubs _ in fact Seafield is his handicapping authority - but is capable of playing to a considerably higher standard.  Like colleagues from rival teams, however, he has discovered that even social golf doesn't always mix well with active participation in Rugby Union at the highest level.  “I simply don't have the time,” he said. “During the rugby season, I have one day a week off from playing and training and I generally spend that day in bed, sleeping.  I need to rest my body.  So for the moment, my golf in restricted largely to the close season." 
At the risk of turning every struggling club handicapper off his next meal, it is clear that golf for O'Driscoll is a sickeningly easy pursuit.  The demands of rugby have dictated, however, that his lowest handicap has been seven, which he played to as a 17-year-old.  Recalling those years, Alan O'Sullivan, a one-time assistant professional at Royal Dublin, said: "Brian never competed as much as the rest of us, but you could tell he could play the game.  I was a few years younger than him and I remember being amazed by how broad and strong he was."

So, how good could he be?  "I believe I have the ability and the confidence to play off scratch, if I did pretty much nothing else," O’Driscoll replied. “I certainly feel that if I went out and played every day for about six months, I would be very close to playing scratch golf."

By his own estimation, his great strength is off the tee, where he is capable of hitting average drives of 270 to 280 yards, and up to 310 "when I really catch one."  He went on to remark nonchalantly:  "My driving is always good. Even after a six-month lay-off from golf, I could go out and hit 12 out of 14 fairways.  First cut of rough, at worst. If I get into a rhythm, it's probably the one thing I can rely on."  Then, almost as an afterthought, he added:  "If it ever deserted me, I'd be in serious trouble."

Meanwhile, he is constantly aware of the physical demands of professional rugby.  "We don't yet know how long a career a player can have as a professional, but the demands on the body are increasing all the time," said the centre, renowned for his dedication to training and physical fitness.  "A career could last seven years, or 10.  Or maybe 12, if you're lucky enough. But with the hits getting bigger and the speed of the game getting faster, you're going to need more rest-time between games, especially the big games.”

Saturday’s big game is the Heineken Cup semi-final against four-times champions, Toulouse.  And O’Driscoll’s importance to the Leinster cause means that along with golf, he is forced to consign the Royal Wedding to the side-line.  Which is a pity, given his fascination for photo opportunities.
Like the occasion when his mother, with a view to getting a rather special shot of her five-year-old son for the family album, suspended a golf-ball from a tree with a piece of string.  "I remember swinging at the ball with a cut-down club, trying to cheat the camera," O’Driscoll recalled of what was an irresistible challenge for a future champion.  Naturally.

- Dermot Gilleece

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