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Exclusive: Brian O'Driscoll opens up as regrets over his retirement "circus" resurface amid sympathy for Andy Murray's "brutal" injury plight

BTSport.com sits down with Ireland legend and Rugby Tonight pundit Brian O'Driscoll to discuss how difficult it is for an elite athlete to decide the right way to call time on an illustrious career.

Brian O’Driscoll knows all about long goodbyes. In September 2013, he announced he would be calling time on his career after 15 years as the poster-boy of Irish rugby.

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Two months after winning his first British and Irish Lions series, Ireland’s record try-scorer confirmed that the upcoming 2013/14 season would be his last, after head coach Joe Schmidt persuaded him to stay on for "one more year".

What followed was eight months of emotional farewells that O’Driscoll, looking back, now calls “a bit of a circus”.

“I stupidly did that,” says O’Driscoll, reflecting on his decision to go public with his retirement plans.

“From my perspective, I did it because I thought they would then stop asking about retirement for the whole year.

“But in fact it added fuel to the fire. I should have said nothing until the Six Nations, or afterwards, and then called it a day, because it became a bit of a circus.

“It became this long goodbye and everything became the ‘last time’. It all got a bit embarrassing by the end.

“If I could go back I would’ve said ‘ah, we’ll see!’ That would’ve been my answer to every question that whole year.

“I had already decided but I was probably too honest with them.”

BTSport.com sat down with the three-time Heineken Champions Cup winner in the week that British tennis legend Andy Murray revealed that he was considering retirement because of chronic pain from an ongoing hip injury.

The former world number one had just announced that he would most likely retire this year, preferably at Wimbledon, although he also admitted his eventual five-set Australian Open defeat to Roberto Bautista could be his last match as he would require “a big operation” in order to continue playing.

From the outside, there appears to be strong parallels between the two men.

Both were – and still are – hero-worshipped in their respective countries. Both suffered high-profile, potentially career-threatening injuries. But, most pertinently, both gave notice of their plans to retire months before their final appearance.

So does O’Driscoll see the similarities in his own experience with Murray’s current dilemma – and how difficult it is for a top-level sportsperson to admit defeat and call time on their career?

“I should say that I am in no way, shape or form comparing myself to Andy Murray,” he laughs.

“Our situations are very different in that I knew it was my time to go, whereas he still has many years ahead of him, which must be brutally difficult to take."

If this year does turn out to be Murray's last as a professional, he will take inspiration from the emotional send-off O'Driscoll enjoyed.

The man they affectionately call ‘BOD’ ended his international career in fairytale fashion, captaining Ireland to a first Six Nations title for five years with a 22-20 victory over France, bowing out with 133 caps to his name.

He was given a rapturous reception by the Stade de France crowd in what proved to be a fitting farewell for player whose appeal transcended country allegiances – much like Murray.

“I chose it on my terms. I won my final game for Ireland, went out winning a trophy with Leinster and it was still incredibly tough!" he says.

“Even when you’ve been as successful as Murray's been, to be marred by injury must be incredibly difficult to take.”

On Monday, Murray announced he had opted to go under the knife in a bid to extend his career and realise his ambition of bowing out at Wimbledon.

The 31-year-old posted an Instagram picture from his hospital bed with the caption: "I underwent a hip resurfacing surgery in London yesterday morning. Feeling a bit battered and bruised just now but hopefully that will be the end of my hip pain."

It’s unclear at this stage whether the procedure will prevent Murray from making an appearance at the All England Club this summer or indeed, whether he will be able to ever play again, but the two-time Wimbledon winner will take solace from legendary doubles champion Bob Bryan.

The American returned to action at the Australian Open just five months after having the same operation, meaning a SW19 swansong remains a realistic target.

Having admitted he would’ve managed his own retirement differently given the chance, does O’Driscoll think Murray made a mistake in mentioning the ‘R’ word too soon?

“No," says O'Driscoll. "It’s the individual’s prerogative, but it does put a lot of pressure on himself to get there [Wimbledon] because that's where everyone’s expecting him to finish up.

“Sometimes ignorance is bliss!”

Watch Rugby Tonight at 8pm on BT Sport 2 this Wednesday, when Brian O’Driscoll will join Ugo Monye and Danny Cipriani to preview the mouth-watering Six Nations opener between Ireland and England.

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