Forward looks back: Malcolm O'Kelly admitted that although he was delighted for friends and teammates at Ireland's Grand Slam, he couldn't help feeling jealous

SO many images burned in the memory, so many words written and so many testimonies recorded, it's almost impossible to think there are any postscripts left to Ireland's Grand Slam. But here's one to get your head around: Malcolm O'Kelly watched the seismic victory over Wales in the Swan pub on Aungier Street.

As Ronan O'Gara's drop-goal climbed, and then wobbled the team into sporting history, O'Kelly was standing in the midst of the boozy delirium making the right noises and throwing the celebratory shapes, but feeling nothing.

This was someone who'd first played for Leinster nearly 15 years ago, rumbling on at the old, dilapidated Donnybrook as a sub for Neil Francis, and who'd gone on to amass over 90 international caps. This was someone whose career had straddled the amateur and pro eras, a fixture at the heart of his province and his country, someone who shouldn't have been just another punter on this day of days.

As the bedlam intensified, he was wishing he could be anywhere else. "Obviously, the guys who won it are all my friends, so I was delighted for them. But I was incredibly jealous at the same time, and in a way, separated from it. In truth, it was hard for me to get emotional, I was quite numb about it. People all around me were going mad, and in all honesty, I didn't feel it."

O'Kelly had been on the bench for the first game against France, and then played the last five minutes in Rome when the win was already wrapped up. He was thinking ahead to the next match against England, and he could sense the momentum, the optimism, the possibility that fulfilment might at last be at hand.

Declan Kidney took him aside and told him he wouldn't be in the match 22 to play England. Mick O'Driscoll had got the nod. Rumours had filtered out of the camp that O'Kelly's timekeeping for a couple of meetings had left a bit to be desired but, looking back, he doesn't believe that was the reason why he was dropped.

"I have to say I didn't see it coming, I was really shocked, but Deccie is a very good judge of a player and he felt I wasn't the man for the job. I realise now that I wasn't dealing that well with being on the bench, and okay, I'd got those few minutes against Italy, but I hadn't been involved really. When you've two great second rows in Paulie and Donncha, who're both fully capable of playing the 80 minutes, why would you bring on someone else?

"As much as I'd like to point the finger at other people, it was my own fault really. I'd been so used to having a very active part in the teams I'd been involved with, and I just wasn't committed to the whole thing as much as I should've been. I know that Deccie always acts in the best interests of the team. So I've accepted it now."

A few months ago, he wasn't so sure where it left him. His 35th birthday was coming up, and he'd been thinking about retiring. He'd been part of Irish rugby's greatest show, but only as a walk-on. When the players took their bow and the curtain dropped, he was invisible in the wings.

Still, he has his grand slam medal and he was a proud member of the squad which got to meet Mary McAleese, but he found it hard to fully relax that day at the Aras. With a large mix of Leinster and Munster players, and with the two teams on a collision course to meet in the Heineken Cup semi-final, O'Kelly was on edge.

"Watching the Grand Slam made me want to win the Heineken Cup so badly. When we all met up with the President at the Aras, I felt a bit weird because at that stage I knew we would be playing Munster again. Those matches are so personal, and although it was a couple of weeks before the game, I felt a lot of tension there."

Back in 2006, when the rivals had met for the first of their European showdowns, O'Kelly set the tone for Leinster's implosion by spilling O'Gara's kick-off, and later he could only lunge in desperation at O'Gara as the out-half skated through for the game's decisive try.

But last May, the game in this country shifted temporarily on its axis as this time Munster were blown away. "Watching Munster win the '06 final was incredibly hard because we knew it could've been us, then suddenly for the tables to be turned, it was amazing. You rarely get a chance to put things right, it doesn't happen, life isn't like that. It was almost like a dream coming true, almost like it was written for us."

But there was a downside. Alan Quinlan's 12-week ban for gouging Leo Cullen, which ruled him out of the Lions tour, meant more than it normally would as O'Kelly and Quinlan are married to sisters, Stephanie and Ruth Griffin.

"It's hard to know what's going on in a player's mind, but in the heat of battle something like that's not premeditated. You slow the video down and it's always going to look bad. Alan was harshly treated. I mean Schalk Burger gets eight weeks and Alan gets 12, what's that about?"

Leinster, meanwhile, exorcised their demons, and finally delivered. "I've been around for quite a while and obviously we'd come so close for so long, the whole thing was incredibly emotional. There were tears of joy, the relief of it all, and I consider myself lucky to have been a part of it. I mean I could've missed out for any number of reasons. I might've retired, I might've been injured, so I'm really thankful."

When he reached 50 Ireland caps, Keith Wood told him he'd go on and get 100. It certainly looked like it when he clocked up number 89 during the disastrous World Cup campaign two years ago but, now on 92, it could be the end of the line. John Hayes and Brian O'Driscoll have moved ahead of him, and O'Gara is level. "I was saying to myself I'll get the 100, but as soon as I presumed it, it didn't happen. That shows you."

He turned 35 in the summer, and although Declan Kidney has told him that as long as he gets game time for Leinster he'll still be considered, there are five second rows in the Ireland training squad including Devin Toner and Donncha Ryan. Leinster, meanwhile, have signed Nathan Hines, to further up the ante.

"I've been on one-year deals for a while now," he says. "The IRFU don't want to give an old fella a two-year deal, maybe they think he'll sit on his ass. They don't like wasting money and that's probably why they're so successful. I don't know how this season is going to pan out. I love starting, being involved, so I'm coming to terms with having the odd weekend off. Leinster's different from Ireland. When you're out with Ireland, you're out, but with Leinster there's always next week."

On Friday, he played his 168th game for the province. Still there after first appearing like a stork out of the gloom against Northern Transvaal back in 1995. He would've had an outstanding career even if those Heineken Cup and Grand Slam medals weren't stashed away, but there's a sense now that while those achievements came in very different circumstances, the boxes are ticked.

"It is a bit distracting not knowing the future, looking to see what's around the corner. But the strange thing is, I was laid back when I was younger, but now I'm more up for it. I'm a bit edgier because I know it's coming to a close."

The warhorse has had a glimpse of the pasture, but he's not ready for it yet.