Keeping it real in the realm of Narnia

HEINEKEN CUP FINAL: Leinster centre Gordon D’Arcy tells GERRY THORNLEY that to get to where they are today required learning from their ‘crisis of confidence, crisis of character’, among the squad and individually

MEETING IN a café in Donnybrook, you are still struck by his size and you wonder again how on earth this 5ft 11ins, 93kg centre – a pocket rocket if ever there was one – has punched above his weight in the midfield traffic for the last eight seasons against all those behemoths. Mind you, he also looks as fit as a flea, still at the peak of his powers despite this being his 13th season as a professional with Leinster.

On the eve of their second European Cup final, if ever an individual’s career defined Leinster it’s arguably Gordon D’Arcy’s, which has been more of a rollercoaster than most. He turns his right forearm around to show the two long scars which are an ever-present reminder of the thrice operated fractured arm which sidelined him for virtually all of 2008.
Prior to the third operation he was warned it would be the last, one way or the other, and tells of how his agent, Fintan Drury, helped prepare him for “the transition from rugby to the real world, from Narnia to the real world!”

That transition was potentially four weeks away. He returned to college, is just about to complete a degree in arts and economics, and is now fairly sanguine if it all ends when his current contract, until the summer of 2012, expires. He already owns the Exchequer Bar with two of his many friends from his Clongowes years, Peter Rock and Ian Tucker, and has a range of post-rugby ideas. Maybe opening a café with an emphasis on healthy foods, or specialising in economics/business.

His girlfriend sometimes slags him about the early-morning breakfasts before training, the lost social weekends, but he still loves playing games, less so the gym. He also only has to look at those scars to made him appreciate every game.

His first game back was against Ulster and what he calls a watershed moment. Stephen Ferris, of all people, was the first player to run at him. “I made the tackle, on my arm. I gave it everything.”

The moment passed. No pain. “I felt like clicking the heels.”

He reflects on when it all started and is a little incredulous as to how amateur it all was.

“We did weights and we did things like that but we were amateur. We still had an amateur ethos and an amateur mentality. We didn’t have that steely edge.”
To get to where Leinster are today required learning from their “crisis of confidence, crisis of character, among the whole squad and individually” along the way, prompting him to describe it as “a labour of love”.

“You’ve got to fail as well. Nobody is going to show up on the job without having learned a couple of lessons along the way. I have no doubt in my mind you are going to see Rory McIlroy as a major winner in the next 12 months. There is no way that guy is not going to come back from it.”

One comment by Shane Byrne back in the early days stands out as much as any other. “He just said to me ‘you know there’s more to being a professional than getting paid’, and it took me ages to figure out what that meant,” he admits with a self-deprecating smile.

After the Mike Ruddock/Matt Wiliams/Alan Gaffney years, their departures led to a rocky period until Michael Cheika became their fourth coach in four years.

“Cheiks was a phenomenal businessman and he’s a phenomenal coach as well. He turned Leinster around in four years and gave us a dynamic physical pack to go with this back line.”

He cites the development of a squad of 17/18 frontline players to one of 25/26, and particularly the signing of Rocky Elsom.

“I’ll be honest with you, I knew Rocky was a good player. I played against him, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen an individual have an impact on a competition as big as that.”