Brian O'Driscoll has spoken to Off The Ball of his reaction to the 'shocking and appalling' crimes of John McClean, the disgraced teacher and rugby coach sentenced this week.
McClean was sentenced to eight years in prison for sexual abuse of 23 students at Terenure College, between the years of 1973 to 1990.
O'Driscoll once counted McClean as one of the biggest influences on his rugby career, but now regards him as a 'total fraud' and has praised the bravery of those that came forward during the investigation.
'A knife in the stomach'
"He was influential in the early years, he was the first person to move me from outhalf to the centre," O'Driscoll said.
"A bit like everybody else over the course of the last ten days particularly, as the levels have come to light of the abuse, I have been as shocked and appalled as everybody else how he managed to get away with it for so long. How he must have impacted those young kids - 12 years of age - it is actually unthinkable as a parent to think of that.
"From [the victims'] point of view, I would congratulate them on their incredible bravery in staying the course with this and finally getting some justice. Although, I don't know what justice there is in carrying that sort of baggage with you for 30 or 40 years. But it has really shocked me.
"From my own point of view, what has upset me is the knowledge that every time I might have spoken about him in a positive manner, what that must have done to those poor victims, how that must have impacted them. How it must have been like a knife in the stomach to them, hearing someone speak so glowingly about someone who had such a negative impact on their lives."
Shock over John McClean
O'Driscoll spoke of his profound shock as the accusations over McClean's criminality emerged, culminating in his guilty plea.
"If I had suspected anything, I would never have spoken in a positive manner, like that time at Blackrock College, or any other time. I was completely shocked by this when it came to light a few years ago. Other people say that the dog in the street knew about it. I can honestly say that anyone in the rugby circles I was involved in never knew anything about it.
"I went for a walk in the park on Sunday and bumped into some ex-teammates from UCD and Leinster schools - we were all discussing it and everyone was equally shocked by the findings of it."
The idea that this was an 'open secret', as some have intimated, did not tally with O'Driscoll's experience.
"There is no way that you wouldn't speak as teenagers about those kinds of rumours, there is no way you would go on summer tours if you had any concerns whatsoever. It was just an absolute shock. I had him as a quiet, reclusive sort of person but then I suppose you don't always know the person behind the mask."
O'Driscoll reflected on whether McClean was consciously building relationships with high-profile people to somehow shield himself.
"We'll never know, with regard to the relationships he tried to foster, whether he was building a bridge between the victims and the allegations that would inevitably come out. He was a person of substance in rugby circles, and it was going to be more difficult to challenge someone that was held in high esteem."
Lessons to learn
As reports emerged that McClean admitted to abuse in 1996, O'Driscoll believes that the disturbing familiarity to sexual offences in the State needs to end with John McClean.
"It is completely unacceptable. It is a disgrace that someone like him could be protected in moving between positions. Have we not learned anything from the past? Things being swept under the carpet, pretending they never happened. It is totally unacceptable and can never happen again. This is what these predators do; preying on the vulnerable again, identifying who they are. It is something that simply should not and cannot happen."
If you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned, please contact oneinfour.ie.
Team of Us. Everyone In.
Vodafone. The main sponsor of the Irish Rugby Team