Tullow Tank revs up for yet another comeback
‘I don’t get small tears or knocks. If something goes on me, I break it. So I break a hand. Or an arm. Or a shoulder. . .’
Published 29/09/2016 | 02:30
Sun-soaked Sandymount and Leinster are holding their occasional support group for wounded and injured soldiers.
The empathy infects even those of us who are lithe of limb; all things being relative, of course.
Sean O'Brien is asked had he and the equally accident-prone Cian Healy ever sat down and, well, acknowledged each other's pain?
"No, no," he guffaws; O'Brien is no dinosaur but we're not quite ready to submit to a series of "trust falls" quite yet. "We don't really talk about it."
The Carlow man barely demurs when it is put to him that his latest surgery - hopefully successful, following the hamstring muscle tendon that violently ripped itself away from the bone last February - could be his 20th. Or 21st.
He, remember, is not yet 30.
"Jesus, I don't know," he says. "There have been a lot of surgeries throughout my career. I've always had big things, I don't have small tears or small knocks. If something goes on me, I break it. So I break a hand. Or an arm. Or a shoulder. . ."
Look away now, perhaps, if you want your son or daughter to follow this toughest of trades. For even the toughest of men, which undoubtedly O'Brien is, can crack under the strain.
He admits his career will be shortened. But it won't change him; like kindred spirit Healy, the violent physical energy may break them into pieces too often but it is also what makes them the players they are.
"It's probably the breakdown and the tackle where we do most of our damage, how we fire ourselves into the middle of the breakdown," he says.
"Lads are getting free shots on you. If I take ten shots in a game, for instance, but I get three turnovers, that's a great thing.
"If I take 15 shots and get no turnovers, I'm doing something wrong. It is the environment we're in and that's the way we play."
Kill. Or be killed.
"You can't change your attitude," he goes on. "Obviously, you can be smarter with certain things, contact and the way you play. But, the same aggression and the same attitude is there.
"That's what makes you a really good player and that's what gets into trouble, in terms of your body. That is just the way it is. I'm not going to change the way I play."
Flying wedges may sound like something you might serve at a nine-year-old's birthday party but the aerial assault of 120kg behemoths at each other will always provoke casualties.
The game won't change either.
"They might as well take out the contact area," says O'Brien. "Either have no breakdown or a breakdown that is full on.
"Lads going in and trying to grab and grapple with lads is going to make a mess out of it and it's going to slow down the game.
"That's why I'm talking about lads having a free shot at you in the breakdown. If someone is targeting you from five yards out and launching into you as hard as he can and I can't see him coming, that's the game. I just need to be smarter about it."
Rob Kearney's woes were not quite so dramatic but hardly less traumatic; his right-sided hamstring problems have dogged him for a year now.
"I didn't play 80 minutes back-to-back since the World Cup," he says wanly. "I was delighted to see the end of last season."
And delighted to welcome the next; "I felt young and strong again," says the supremely young and strong 30-year-old before another setback left him feeling old and weak.
On Glasgow's increasingly notorious artificial surface, he damaged his knee; the fact it was a substantial injury rather than the nagging, niggling hamstring issue, becalmed him.
"I'd take it over a hamstring any day of the week," he smiles grimly; the patients in this clinic collect injuries like others accumulate old vinyl.
"I was lucky, it could have been a lot worse. It was a freak injury, the impact of the knee on the ground. That place will claim a few more victims yet. Four last weekend. . ."
The mental anguish heightened the physical pain for much of last season. Sometimes it seemed as if being even named in a midweek international or provincial team was merely a prelude to him being scratched like a particularly uncooperative thoroughbred.
"A huge amount of it is mental," he concedes. "Last year broke my heart. It's tough to take, and you're not getting any form or consistency. You're not stringing games together.
"People are on your back. You're not playing as well as you can. It's tough. It is. So that's why you welcome the start of a season. New mind, new body. For a few weeks anyway. . ."
Canterbury yesterday unveiled the new Leinster European jersey with (opposite page) Robbie Henshaw, Sean O'Brien and Rob Kearney. It will be available exclusively from Life Style Sports - www.lifestylesports.com.