Thursday 19 October 2017

Sexton homecoming a big statement to rich French clubs - Sean O'Brien

Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

As a trio of Leinster players take their places in separate media pods inside Clondalkin RFC's crowded clubhouse - where the province announced a new five-year sponsorship deal with Bank of Ireland - they each know what issue is coming first.

Of the three, Sean O'Brien is perhaps best suited to discuss Johnny Sexton's current predicament, given that the Tullow man weighed up his own future not too long ago.

"Look, we all know how good a player Johnny Sexton is," O'Brien (pictured) says.

"We all know what he was capable of when he was at Leinster, we all know what he brings to an environment, whether it's here or elsewhere, and how driven he is to succeed and to win trophies."

Home ties seemingly count for double, and especially in Sexton's case. A year after getting married, his first child has arrived and despite O'Brien acknowledging that his own situation was entirely different, he can see the draw of a return to these shores.


"With me, I had none of that, I had no ties and stuff like that. He's in an even more difficult situation and one which he'll have to carefully consider and make sure it's the right thing for himself and his family, and I think that will be the priority for him," he says.

O'Brien may have an idea of what his international team-mate is going through but he fully understands that it is a decision that shouldn't be influenced by anyone apart from Sexton and his family.

The Lions out-half made a flying visit to Dublin last week for a media event but O'Brien admits that the pair hadn't met up for a chinwag.

"Stuff like that is private and you don't really want to get into it with him with a conversation - it's his own decision.

"He knows his friends and his former team-mates would love to see him back but you can't try to push him or be on at him the whole time about it - he has to make his own decision at the end of the day," O'Brien sensibly quips.

Confirmation of Sexton's return to Leinster next season is seemingly imminent, which is not just a huge boost to the province, the national side and the Pro12, but it also fires a warning shot to the money-laden French clubs who have been cherry-picking the world's best talent in recent years.

O'Brien rejected a contract offer from Toulon last season in favour of a new two-year deal with Leinster and the powerhouse back-rower reckons that Sexton's transfer home will prove that money hasn't become everything in the game.

"It would be a big statement but on the other hand, people can say what they like about all these big French clubs having so much money, but I've said before that doesn't necessarily make a team very, very strong," he argues.

"You could have the best players in the world and they mightn't work well together.

"At Leinster, we have such a close-knit group of players and when everyone's fit and when we are playing the rugby we can play, I think we can beat anybody.

"Obviously he'd (Sexton) be another added value to that if he did come home."

O'Brien has more pressing matters to be concerned about himself, however, and not least his return from injury.

A shoulder problem last January meant that he missed most of Leinster's campaign, and he also sat out Ireland's summer tour of Argentina.


But the 27-year old is "feeling very good at the minute" and while he hopes to be involved in the pre-season friendly against Ulster on Saturday, his main aim is to be fully fit for the Guinness Pro12 opener against Glasgow Warriors.

"I've had a long pre-season, which I badly wanted and I'm very pleased with where I am right now," he says.

"Please God I can just get in now and get amongst it and that's what we've been waiting for all this long pre-season. All the hard work is done so it's just about getting match fit and getting playing.

"I've stated already to Matt (O'Connor) and the rest of the management that I want to play a couple of games before we get into the league, so this weekend is the first opportunity I'll have to play and obviously I want to.

"I'm hopeful that he'll let me play," he adds with a grin.

Irish Independent

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