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Unsung hero Gordon D'Arcy the man who made Ireland's backline tick

Joe Schmidt foreshadowed the end of an era for centres of D’Arcy’s stature, but the 35-year-old will hopefully receive a fitting send-off.

THE THING ABOUT unsung heroes, is that they tend to receive the acclaim they deserve when they’re no longer on the field.

Most don’t even notice their exit. They slip out the side door quietly, someone else is filling their shoes and the closest they’ll come to making a big deal of it is by plugging away with the day-to-day work ethic that brought them to the top in the first place.

Gordon D'Arcy avoids the tackle of Saia Fainga'a D'Arcy evades Saia Fainga'a in his most recent international appearance. Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

Yesterday’s squad update from Joe Schmidt’s Ireland camp was delivered without fanfare: a single line before 36 names, a squad without the 81-cap midfield veteran Gordon D’Arcy.

His detractors may say it’s a long time coming. D’Arcy has had rivals for his position nipping at his heels for two solid years now since Luke Marshall emerged on the scene. Yet as long as Brian O’Driscoll was around, D’Arcy was always the best man to partner him.

It’s unfair to view D’Arcy simply as the wing-man of the most famous player Ireland has ever produced, but the Wexford man was the foil that made it all work.

The first time Ireland were forced to do without the one-time utility back was the 2005 Six Nations Championship. D’Arcy hobbled off during the win over Italy and Eddie O’Sullivan attempted to squeeze Shane Horgan and Kevin Maggs back into the 12 shirt.

The campaign ended disastrously in the Millennium Stadium, Maggs and O’Driscoll were contained, running continuously into red dead ends. In the space of a year Ireland had gone from having a free-flowing attack with endless possibilities to looking like a side with one ineffective idea. D’Arcy was the difference.

Even more than his illustrious partner, D’Arcy changed his game to reinvent himself within the team. The dancing feet that characterised his play after moving infield from fullback were replaced by clever footwork in contact, his work at the breakdown caused foreign commentators to praise Ireland’s ‘auxiliary flanker’ and his relatively short stature didn’t keep him from being a defender Irish coaches could set their watch by.

Gordon D'Arcy and Julian Savea Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

This is likely not the last we will see of D’Arcy in green, rugby players intrinsically know that they are only ever one injury away from personal triumph or disaster. As things stand though, his omission from a 36-man squad when Ireland are two games from a Grand Slam does not bode well for his World Cup hopes.

The 35-year-old will surely get a chance to play his way back into the side during this summer’s warm-up fixtures, but Schmidt foretold the end of this era when O’Driscoll bowed out of Lansdowne Road this time last year.

“In the days of the big direct running, [O'Driscoll] might be the final bastion along with Gordon for the smaller centre who is a creator of play rather than a direct runner,” Schmidt said after the larger than life BOD banner had been taken down from its moorings on a helium blimp.

Gordon D'Arcy is tackled by Leonardo Sarto Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

As ever, the Wexford man was left in the shadows while O’Driscoll couldn’t help but command the limelight. Not all servants to the jersey get the final ovation they deserve.

Just ask David Wallace, who was stretchered off in a World Cup warm-up. Ask John Hayes who last wore the green earlier that same month in an uncapped fixture against Connacht in Donnybrook. ‘The Bull’ dutifully walked proudly from the field, no fuss and no meaningful glances other than a firm handshake from Eoin Reddan.

Hopefully the Leinster legend will get a chance to add his unique experience, handling and breakdown skill to Ireland’s cause later this year and challenge Robbie Henshaw for the jersey that was for so long his and his alone.

It might be fitting that D’Arcy slips quietly out the side door, but the man who made Ireland’s backline tick deserves much more than that.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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