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The story behind this euphoric picture of Brian O'Driscoll retiring a champion

We spoke the man who captured the iconic moment.

THERE’S AN ENORMOUS amount of skill and know-how involved in taking the perfect photograph at precisely the perfect moment. But there is a large portion of luck required too.

INPHO managing director Billy Stickland has captured too many iconic images and too many duds to believe anything different.

Yet his is the name beside one of the most captivating images from Ireland’s Six Nations victory over France in Paris last March. Not the shot directly below here, that may have been a story to tell on another day.

His photograph of a celebrating/retiring Brian O’Driscoll on the full-time whistle was a moment of rare unbridled joy from Ireland’s most-capped player.

David Kearney contests the last minute try which was disallowed The Kearney brothers plead for the mercy of a TMO after France cross the try-line. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“If France had scored that try it would be exactly the opposite,” Stickland says philosophically to TheScore.ie.

“Remi Tales would be jumping in the air and Brian O’Driscoll would be pissed off. You just have to go with whatever it is.”

Stickland was on ‘BOD duty’ in those final, frantic minutes as Ireland scrambled to hold Les Bleus at bay and keep their hands on the Six Nations title. It’s a job description that had become a regular fixture in the life of sports photographers, but now they are left to follow other figures in his absence.

Stickland camped behind the French try-line, his long lens trained on the number 13 for the final five minutes of the game.

“Over in the far corner, France should have scored a try, it was a forward pass, but I wasn’t concentrating on that. I was just on O’Driscoll.

“You could see all the emotions for him in the last few minutes: they thought they were going to win, then they thought France had scored a try. They were given a reprieve with the forward pass, then there was a scrum where France should have got a penalty, but Ireland won the scrum… and that was the end of the game.

“Basically it was just a matter of concentrating and waiting on the final whistle. Normally, you’d be amazed that they don’t actually celebrate, but the tension was great at the end of that game that he just exploded when the final whistle went.”

Brian O'Driscoll celebrates at the final whistle Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“It’s grand when it works out the way you’re planning it. The number of times you’re waiting for a photograph and somebody step in front of it, or they don’t celebrate, or they turn the wrong way…”

And the presence of Tales, the distraught perfectly-out-of-focus French number 10, was another variable factor that provided the ideal contrast to O’Driscoll’s elation:

“Again, you can’t legislate for that. You couldn’t really be running around trying to get into position because you don’t know what’s going to happen. You’re in a fixed position and hope it works out.

“You just try and control the things you can control. That’s the icing on the cake, but it doesn’t always work out like that.”

Brian O'Driscoll watches as All Blacks' score a try through Ryan Crotty in the last minuteStickland captures O'Driscoll's horror as New Zealand take a last-gasp win in the Aviva.Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

One obvious example of that point was another memorable image Stickland took of O'Driscoll in 2013 (above). Again, he was on 'BOD watch', again Ireland were hanging on. On that occasion, however, O'Driscoll was sidelined early and Ireland slipped to defeat against New Zealand.

"We were following Brian for the whole season, because there was always a 'last' something," jokes the photographer.

"It was a long season of goodbyes. Every time he played in anything we were photographing, the first thing we talked about was 'remember, this could be Brian's last this or Brian's last that' so I think everyone was a bit glad when it was finally over.

Brian OÕDriscoll celebrates at the final whistle Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

"It was important to have his goodbyes. A lot of players like, say, Ronan O'Gara sort of just disappeared at the end rather than getting the acknowledgement he deserved. But Brian O'Driscoll deserves everything he gets.

Brian OÕDriscoll celebrates at the final whistle Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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