O'Brien's rampaging game setting the world on fire

Des Berry

IRELAND back-row juggernaut Sean O'Brien has achieved cult status with his rampaging displays in New Zealand.

Within 24 hours of joining Twitter he had 10,000 followers and had hundreds of rugby fans making up interesting 'facts' about the 24-year-old bruiser.

He has been trending on Twitter for the past 48 hours and the hilarious hashtag #seanobrienfacts has been entertaining rugby fans on both sides of the equator.

"Sean O'Brien is so hard he could kill two stones with one bird," is just a sample of the comic efforts.

O'Brien has made the unlikely journey from Tullow to the top of the world by migrating south for the autumn and taking New Zealand by storm.

The Man of the Match accolades have come like the cold air on the south island. The 2011 European Player of the Year has a genuine shot at World Player of the Year such has been his impact at the World Cup.

But, personal gain comes a distance behind hitting up and over the gain line for his team-mates. The Kiwis see a reflection of themselves when they stare into the passionate, emotional eyes of Ireland's multi-purpose back-row forward.

He is rough, tough and mean, just the way they build them in the Land of the Long White Cloud. He is a winner out to break down historical barriers and defences.

So far, Australia and Italy have come as meat and potatoes -- his mother Kaye says it is his favourite meal -- to O'Brien's insatiable appetite for work. Leinster coach Joe Schmidt has often spoken of his energy levels and supernatural capacity for endurance.

O'Brien has had to endure. He didn't come through the privileged schools system. It was the youths or club route for this route-one rugby player.

He has come a long way since walking into the field at Blackgates in Tullow as a 10-year-old to follow in the footsteps of his father Sean Snr, an unremarkable club player, not to be confused with the unrelated O'Briens of The Hollows, who formed the backbone of Tullow's forward pack for years.

There was no youths rugby in Tullow until Vinnie Mahon started it up in 1997. He coached Sean all the way from U10 to U18 as his son Conor played on the same team growing up.

"What makes Sean O'Brien such a very good footballer and different from 98pc of rugby forwards is that he could play full-back or midfield in Gaelic football," said Mahon.

"He had a great pair of hands, a great pair of feet. He had the football skills of a Georgie Best, near enough heading that way, and he had the power of a prop."

The immense power O'Brien brings into contact has always been the hallmark of his brutal, fearless approach to the most physical sport.

"He has always been a real hard hitter. When he used to come out to training in Tullow as a 14-year-old, I had to hold back Sean and tell him not to be tackling so hard in training.

"He wasn't a dirty player. He just tackled straight on. I couldn't afford to lose players from this small club. He was going to take them away from rugby because they would get hurt and not come back the next day. When he was in fifth year at Tullow Community School, I used to ask him: 'How are the books going Sean?'. He said: 'Listen Vinnie, I'm not really worried about the books. I'm going to play rugby'.

"It was as simple as that."

The boys from The Fighting Cocks intermediate Gaelic football team still talk about one of the last days O'Brien played for the club in one of those hotly contested local derbies.

The fresh-faced 19-year-old took off on a long solo run from full-back that ended with half-a-dozen men lying flat out on their backs behind him.

There was no whistle. It was all above board. They came at him from all angles and paid the price for their innocence.

They simply didn't know who they were dealing with. Neither did Australia. Now they know that it takes more than one man to stop this 'Tullow Tank'.