herald

Tuesday 21 November 2017

girv' delivers a parting gift

Here's one for you. There was a club in the midlands, not so long ago, that wanted a profile player to attend the grand opening of the brand-new clubhouse on their grounds.

The wheels were put in motion. A well-known Ireland player was contacted by the club. He said he would be delighted to attend for the princely sum of €5,000. The phone was put down with haste.

The brains trust got to work. A call for decency was made. Another Ireland player was contacted. A request was made for his attendance. He agreed. There was no fee mentioned. That would have to wait till later.

The player drove a considerable distance, turned up on an evening after work and gave over his time selflessly for however long was necessary. By the end of the evening, the club officials approached the player.

"How much can we give you?"

"Oh nothing."

"Nothing? But, expenses. Your petrol money."

"That's okay, It was an honour to be here."

The player was Girvan Dempsey. This is all you need to know about the ultimate team man. You see, his team was not just Leinster the players and coaches, but Leinster the province.

He has travelled the distance between the points of amateur and professional levels and made a difference every step of the way as the consummate professional, a man Matt Williams described as the best positional and tactical full-back he has witnessed, alongside Australia's Marty Roebuck.

"I remember back in 1996 starting off. Club rugby was the mainstay of the domestic scene. For Leinster, there were only a handful of games every year," recalled Dempsey.

"Back then, we were struggling to fill Donnybrook. You look at the work the Branch have put in and the supporters, the way they have organised themselves. The RDS is full every other week. We sell 10,000-plus season tickets," he said.

Success does not happen without the entertainment and nourishment provided by a winning team. However, the long lag between the capture of trophies is the sole source of regret.

"I suppose one disappointment would have been not to have won more silverware from the inaugural Celtic League final against Munster in 2001 to the Magners League in 2008. We were capable of winning more. There was just something missing.

"I have been very lucky to have been involved with Leinster rugby since 1996. I was first capped for Ireland in 1998. I have enjoyed every minute and achieved nearly everything I wanted in the game," said the 82-times capped Ireland full-back.

With the birth of his son, Peter, has come a change in perspective. He is not banjaxed by injury. He leaves the game intact. There is plenty of life left in the legs that will now march to Peter's tune. And that is alright by him.

"The game has evolved. There are a lot of young, exciting players coming up in Leinster. It is time for them to step up," he said graciously.

"It is quite scary to see some of the young guys coming through, the weights they can lift in the gym, how strong and quick they are and the skill level they have.

"I feel very honoured and privileged to have played with outstanding players on both fronts, won some great games. It was an emotional occasion last Saturday in my last involvement in the Heineken Cup. My family were there. My wife and son were there."

It is possible Dempsey will be seen in the colours of Terenure College next season in a more relaxed environment. For the moment, he will hang his professional boots on the wall of the dressingroom at The RDS for the last time in the coming weeks.

For sure, the Leinster coaches, players and supporters will do what they can to make it a glorious conclusion to a worthy career for the man known as the safest pair of hands in rugby.

And although Matt Williams has revealed Dempsey was quicker over 50 metres than Brian O'Driscoll in his time as coach there, it was the assurance and confidence he spread as the great guardian as last man back that will last longer in the memory.

"I have been lucky to be part of a great era of Irish and Leinster rugby. The advice I have received from wide and far is to not rush into anything, to take some time out and really decide on what to do."

It should come easily. You always look like you have plenty of time out there on the field.

DEMPSEY ON...

BEST PLAYER TO HAVE PLAYED WITH

"I suppose the one, in my mind, arguably one of the greatest players for Ireland ever, Brian O'Driscoll.

"It has been an absolute honour to have been on the pitch with him on many occasions to see his drive, determination, his ability as a rugby player, his skill level, his leadership qualities shown by his actions.

"His performance in the Grand Slam last year was second to none. It was incredible."

DEMPSEY ON...

BEST PLAYER TO HAVE PLAYED AGAINST

"It would be hard to pick out one individual. Dan Carter from New Zealand is a guy who is not physically the biggest player in the world. He is immensely powerful, immensely strong, has great skill and a great reader of the game."

DEMPSEY ON...

HIS BIGGEST REGRET

"I suppose one disappointment would have been not to have won more silverware from the inaugural Celtic League final against Munster in 2001 to the Magners League in 2008.

"We discovered that when we won the Magners, and it gave us the self-belief and confidence to go on and win the Heineken Cup.

"To keep that momentum we will, as a squad, draw a line under Toulouse and win the Magners League."

DEMPSEY ON...

HIS FAVOURITE TRY

"On the international front, it is the one everyone looks back to.

"It was the day Ireland went over to Twickenham in 2004. We were on a hiding to nothing against the world champions.

"No one gave us a chance. We were confident in our own ability. We had a lot of self belief.

"I was very fortunate to be on the end of the teamwork to get a try. That one would certainly be my favourite."

DEMPSEY ON...

HIS FAVOURITE OCCASION

"As an occasion, that day in Croke Park in 2007 when England came to town. The build up of the week, everything that went with that game, and the way the side performed, I was very proud of the Irish team that day."

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