Friday 20 September 2019

Steven O'Brien: 'I feel like I still have something to prove'

Steven O’Brien pictured at the recent launch of the Sigerson Cup. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Steven O’Brien pictured at the recent launch of the Sigerson Cup. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

He wasn't part of the Tipperary football squad this year but somehow Steven O'Brien seemed to be a constant part of their narrative.

As their season stretched towards new horizons, the question was continuously asked: How far could they go with a full deck?

With Barry Heffernan after Tipperary’s All-Ireland SHC final victory. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
With Barry Heffernan after Tipperary’s All-Ireland SHC final victory. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

O'Brien's name was usually at the forefront of that conversation. Like Seamus Kennedy, he had thrown his lot in with the hurlers for 2016 in what was a sickening blow for the county's footballers who had looked primed to make a breakthrough at senior level.

However, unlike Kennedy, he was seeing almost no action with Michael Ryan's side. And as such, a return to football seemed the logical move.

Reflecting on his year now, O'Brien admits he would be lying if he said he wasn't tempted to go back to the big ball as Tipp's historic summer unfolded. After all, there would surely have been game time for him there. However, he resisted the temptation. He went to their games alright but only as a supporter and watched on from the terrace in Killarney as they contested the Munster final.

"The Munster final in Killarney of course you'd be itching to be a part of big games likes that, especially having been there for the last three years," O'Brien recalls.


"Some of those lads are my best friends and I was delighted to see them getting their just rewards, playing in those big matches. They came up short but they got themselves some good recognition and I was delighted to see them doing well.

"Over the summer I was being asked if I was envious and of course you'd be jealous not to be a part of it but it didn't impede me from supporting them.

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"I had played with some of them lads and it was great to see them getting the rewards they deserve."

He kept a close eye on their progress but that was almost unavoidable as the two teams would often train side-by-side in Dr Morris Park in Thurles.

"Running down past the lads with a hurley and a helmet for the first few weeks was strange," he laughs.

"And they'd be jibing all the way around but it was friendly banter. The year they had it was all good. If they didn't have such a good year there might have been sour or bitter thoughts but the year they had there was no complaints from either side."

O'Brien didn't make the match-day squad for the All-Ireland final win over Kilkenny but the experience hasn't soured him. And there's no hint of regret in his voice.

At the end of the 2016 season, there were some suggestions that the dual All-Ireland minor winner has doubled down on his gamble and opted to stick with the hurlers once more in 2017.

And that Kennedy progressed from football to starting on the All-Ireland final-winning team with the hurlers has only redoubled his desire to break into the side.

"Myself and Seamus are great friends and to see what he did was brilliant. It acted more as an inspiration to me to see that if he could do it why couldn't I?

"Seamus got his chance and he grabbed it and ran with it and its great for him and he had a great season. And he showed everyone he's more than capable of doing it and it has instilled an inspiration in me."

The new season already looks a little more promising for O'Brien. He's keen to stress he's not making excuses but he required an operation in October. Renowned surgeon and former Meath footballer Gerry McEntee performed the operation on his Gilmore's groin. The recovery has gone to plan and he's ready to go for 2017.

"When you saw the footballers doing well and I wasn't getting much of a look-in of course those thoughts (of going back to play football) run through your head but that wouldn't justify the character and person I am," O'Brien says.

"When I make a decision I tend to see it through and if I felt that if halfway through the season I was ready to throw my toys out of the pram and switch back, it wouldn't show the true person I am.

"And that's why I stuck with it for this year, to give it a proper whack. And look if it doesn't work out it doesn't work out and I'll be the first person to put my hand up and say it didn't work out and maybe try maybe get back in with football.

"Look going in I knew nothing was going to happen overnight. Primarily, I said I'd see it as a one-year target and see how I was getting on and now that has progressed into a two year thing. I just feel myself I have a lot to prove.

"Through different things maybe I didn't get a chance to show what I was capable of and that was down to myself.

"It's a two-year project and I'm happy enough with it because I want to show what I can do. And I can reassess at the end of the year. If it hasn't worked out after that then fair enough. Nothing ventured, nothing gained."

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