Leicester v Leinster, Heineken Cup Final, Murrayfield, May 23
O'Driscoll elated with long-awaited win
May 23, 2009
Brian O'Driscoll was elated to finally win the Heineken Cup © Getty Images
Leinster centre Brian O'Driscoll praised his side's resilience after they ended a long wait by winning their first Heineken Cup at Murrayfield. O'Driscoll's men saw off Leicester 19-16 to banish memories of two semi-final defeats and join their fellow Irish provinces of Munster and Ulster as winners of European club rugby's top prize.
O'Driscoll capped a remarkable season by winning the Cup, having already led Ireland to a famous Grand Slam in this year's Six Nations. He was realistic about the side's limitations in attack at times but praised their spirit and commitment in defence.
"I just felt we had great resilience; we backed our defence all year," he told Sky Sports. "We've been poor in attack at times but got it together over the last couple of months. It feels great. I've played for this team for 10 years and loved every minute of playing for them and it was worth the wait. It was a goal at the start of my career and I couldn't have done it with a better bunch of guys."
O'Driscoll also gave British and Irish Lions coach Ian McGeechan a scare when he appeared to suffer a shoulder injury. "I've been struggling a little bit with a bit of nerve trouble on that side," said O'Driscoll, whose 2005 Lions tour was infamously ended when he was tackled onto the same shoulder by New Zealand skipper Tana Umaga. "It'll just take a little bit of mind endurance over the summer but hopefully it will be okay."
The loss of star centre O'Driscoll would be a huge blow for the Lions for this summer's tour to South Africa. But his optimistic prognosis was backed up by Leinster head coach Michael Cheika, who said, "He knows how to manage himself well and he knew that he just needed a few minutes on the sideline there. There was no way he was coming off in that game, I can assure you of that. Even if I tried, I think I probably could have got the Ronaldo treatment if he came off!"
O'Driscoll, who has spent a decade trying to get his hands on the Heineken Cup was ecstatic at today's victory. "It's pretty special. We've waited a long time for it," said the 30-year-old, whose drop-goal opened the scoring today. "I think this is my 10th Heineken Cup and to finally win it, it feels pretty incredible. It's a culmination of years and years of work and disappointment along the way but it's all worthwhile now, having put in all that hard graft."
Despite being the better side, Leinster were forced to come from 16-9 down early in the second half. A try from Jamie Heaslip and a nerveless 40-metre penalty from Johnny Sexton completed the turnaround.
"We were down to 14 men when we conceded all our points," said O'Driscoll. "We knew that we'd have to be at our best, both from a defensive and an attacking point of view.
"We scored a great try and got back into the game and got back to 16 all. And Johnno had the balls to kick over the winning goal and we hung in for the last 10 minutes and showed what our whole team ethos is about."
Leinster skipper Leo Cullen was also full of praise for his side's spirit as they overcame a dogged Leicester side that was in pursuit of a domestic and European double.
"It's been some pretty tough times over the last couple of years. We've had some disappointing days," Cullen said. "When you've had a bit of hurt in the past, when you get the win it makes it that little bit sweeter.
"The boys showed great spirit coming back into it. It was a great win. We've always been a bit disappointing on the big day. It wasn't pretty at times but that's finals I suppose. I think the belief was always there that we could win the game."
Cullen hailed the impact Cheika has made since taking over in 2005. "When I went to England four years ago, Leinster at that time were in a little bit of disarray. When 'Cheiks' came in, he instilled a real work ethic and a bit more edge about the team.
"He slowly built, I think, over the last number of years so a huge amount of credit has to go to him. The organisation is just at a different level to what it was before he came in. Hopefully, this will be a stepping stone for us to go on and be successful for many years to come."
Man of the Match Rocky Elsom, whose barnstorming performance set Leinster's stall out in the second-half, was elated at claiming victory during his sabbatical from Australian rugby.
"You want days like these but there were times during the year when we didn't play as well as we'd like and it looked pretty long odds for us to make it through to the final. But we got ourselves back on track and I think, the last three games, there was just a lot of clarity about what we wanted to do."
Tigers boss Richard Cockerill refused to make excuses for his side's defeat, despite the game coming a week after their gruelling Guinness Premiership win over London Irish.
"We're disappointed that we lost, obviously, but it was a tight game and there was three points difference," he said. "We couldn't have given any more, could we? The boys played their hearts out. It's been a tough run-in for us.
"No complaints. You accept winning; you have to accept losing. Of course, we want to win. I'm not a great loser but you have to be dignified in defeat and that's us."
"We should be very pleased and proud of our season, because we're English champions, we've lost by three points in the Heineken final. It could have gone either way. They have to take the credit for winning it, because they've won it.
"We were fresh, we were into the game - I'm not going to use that as an excuse."