Irish rugby was celebrating on the double last night as Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt was selected as the RTE Sport Manager of the Year, while recently retired centre Brian O’Driscoll was inducted into the RTE/Irish Sports Council Hall of Fame.
Less than seven months on from his retirement from rugby, Brian O’Driscoll was surprised with the RTÉ/Irish Sports Council Hall of Fame award during the ceremony at the broadcaster’s Donnybrook studios.
An even bigger shock for the former Leinster, Ireland and Lions captain came when his parents, Frank and Geraldine, emerged from the wings to present the award to him.
A stunned O’Driscoll quipped: “I nearly started crying there when I saw them coming out. Honestly, my heart’s still jumping out of my chest. I’m unbelievably touched to receive this and totally shocked.
“It was a great year from an Irish perspective, to be able to win the Six Nations. And now the way the boys have gone on and won the November Series, little did I know that I’d been holding the team back all this time!
“Walking off the pitch at the RDS (in the PRO12 final), albeit after eight minutes, having come out of the game relatively unscathed actually was probably one of the real highs.
“Just really feeling a sense of achievement of 15 years as a professional and that I managed to get out pretty unscathed, albeit that it takes me a while to get out of bed in the morning!”
Asked by presenter Darragh Maloney what try stands out for him from his stellar career, the record-breaking centre admitted: “The try that I scored in the (2009) Grand Slam game in Wales was an important one, we needed to get back in the game, albeit that it was from half a yard!
“I’ll look back on that, and that was an important try. It’s not the ones that you run in from 20 or 25 (metres), it’s the one-yarders that really count.”
Also on the night, Ireland’s 2014 Six Nations title-winning coach Joe Schmidt was chosen as the RTÉ Sport Manager of the Year. He is the first rugby winner of the award which was introduced in 2011.
After accepting the award on stage, Schmidt said: “It’s been a fantastic year. It’s always incredibly humbling to get an individual accolade when it’s such a collective effort. The backroom staff, the bulk of them are world class, and thankfully that support goes behind a playing staff that are fantastic to work with.”
The award comes less than a fortnight after the New Zealander, who guided Ireland to nine wins in ten Tests in 2014, was crowned the Philips Sports Manager of the Year.
Asked about his own style of management, he explained: “It’s fairly wholehearted, we work pretty hard as a group to try to be as far ahead of where we need to be as possible, and try to make sure we’re organised…a little bit innovative, if we can be.”
Ireland’s goal-kicking stars Jonathan Sexton and Niamh Briggs were both nominated for the RTÉ Sports Person of the Year award, which was won by golf’s world number one, Rory McIlroy.
The Irish rugby team, coached by Schmidt and captained by Paul O’Connell, were shortlisted for the RTÉ Sport Team of the Year which went to the all-conquering Cork Ladies footballers following a public vote.
Interviewed on stage, Ireland Women’s full-back Niamh Briggs was asked about the team’s famous win over New Zealand at the Women’s Rugby World Cup in France back in August.
“It was a fantastic day for us, one that’s definitely going to live long in the memory. That whole experience of staring down the Haka and getting to play such an amazing team was one that we won’t forget for a long time,” said the Waterford woman.
“We had a really, really good warm-up, and coming out for the national anthems it was like a home game. A good core of us had been together there in 2010. We were older, more mature and more ready for the experience this time and that was a big factor for us.”
Fellow nominee Jonathan Sexton is feeling ‘a lot better than I was, improving really well’ having been stood down from playing and contact training in rugby until February. He suffered his fourth concussion in a year during Ireland’s recent GUINNESS Series win over Australia.
Reflecting on March’s memorable Championship-winning performance against France in Paris, he said: “The whole pressure of the day overrides everything, just trying to get over the line and create a bit of history and win the Championship. And then we had the added pressure of trying to send Brian out on a high – as if we needed a little bit more pressure on the day!”
Commenting on 2015 and what lies ahead for the Irish squad, Sexton added: “We’ve got one of the best coaches in the world, one of the best captains in the world and we’ve got some really good players. We’re very lucky to be involved in the set-up at the moment and we’ve got some world class guys to come back in.
“Hopefully it bodes well for the future. We’ve got our feet firmly on the ground thanks to those two guys over there (O’Connell and Schmidt), and we’ll try to push on again this year and improve.”