His wonderfully floated pass put Simon Zebo over for an 11th minute try, kickstarting a scoring blitz which had Ireland 23-3 to the good at half-time.
O'Driscoll dived over from a close-in ruck, three minutes into the second half, for his 46th Test try for Ireland.
The teak-tough centre was then to the forefront of a robust defensive effort that kept out wave after wave of Welsh attacks, displaying the leadership qualities that made him a record-breaking captain of his country.
The pressure told while Rory Best and Conor Murray were in the sin-bin as Wales went on to match Ireland's three-try tally. But the visitors, with a head-bandaged O'Driscoll stepping in to play scrum half, held on for a deserved 30-22 victory.
That the 34-year-old turned in a man-of-the-match display off limited recent game-time with Leinster - he only completed his return from ankle surgery a month ago - makes his 80 minutes in the Cardiff cauldron all the more impressive.
'Vintage O'Driscoll' was how some observers described it, but the man himself was just pleased to have come through such an intensely physical encounter with a win.
"It was a very physical game, real Six Nations stuff which you expect when you come to Cardiff. We'd lost the last three to Wales and we just felt as though we needed to stop the rot," said O'Driscoll.
"It's a great day, a good start for us in this Six Nations. It puts us in a good place with England to come next week.
"This Championship's about momentum. If you lose the first you're in trouble, if you win you're in a good spot. We have to build on this.
"The understanding from winning the Grand Slam in 2009 is that even when you're not great, you have to be good. Consistency will be the key for this Six Nations."
O'Driscoll was a key factor during Ireland's title success four years ago, and the Dubliner will be fit to train this week after having 'several stitches inserted in a head wound' he suffered against Wales.
"The big thing is trying to be fit and getting as close to 100% fit as you possibly can when you take to the pitch," he admitted.
"It felt good today, the ankles both felt good, and all the other bumps and bruises felt good so if you can start games that way, you've every chance of putting in a half decent performance.
"Today a few things ran for me and I managed to get across the try-line but it doesn't matter for anything if we didn't win the game. We won that and I'm delighted, like everyone else is."
O'Driscoll gave credit to Wales for the manner of their second half comeback, but also praised his team-mates for putting their bodies on the line during some lung-bursting phases of tackling and defensive scrambling.
"Listen, ideally we would have loved to have won by 20 points when we got that lead. But Wales were never going to be flat for the full 80 minutes. They weren't great for the first half and then they upped their intensity.
"We didn't really get to challenge at ruck time in the second half and as a result they had quick ball and other than a bit of scramble defence, they could have scored another a couple of tries. So credit to us but also to them for the way they came at us in the second half.
"It was pretty good proper body-on-the-line stuff and there was a couple of times when guys made key decisions, stopping the ball when they had two or three men overlaps and that's what you have to do to win tough games."
Asked about that memorable pass to the left which caught out Alex Cuthbert and released Zebo for his first Six Nations try, the Leinster ace quipped: "I'm not going to say it's classic Brian O'Driscoll!
"I just saw it was a set play and we just tweaked it a little bit because the option that we usually take wasn't on and it was on on the outside.
"'Zeebs' had to run a great line, he had to trust that I was getting through the gap and putting the ball there and he's got a striker's potency. He just likes to finish tries and you could just see his skill level for the second try (from Cian Healy) was a joke, keeping the ball up with his foot."