Saturday 17 November 2018

'He is as vocal as ever with his high-pitched voice' - 'Stubborn' Sean O'Brien still making the right noises

Back-row colossus insists he's determined to make up for lost time after frustrating year

Sean O'Brien during Ireland rugby squad training at Carton House
Sean O'Brien during Ireland rugby squad training at Carton House
Sean O'Brien in conversation with head coach Joe Schmidt
David Kelly

David Kelly

Scientists have recently discovered that cows can ascertain certain noise patterns according to mood.

For example, cows can emit excitable sounds when they detect their food arriving. It may be news - or moos - to some of us but not to farmers, who have been able to interpret their animals' humour for centuries.

Seán O'Brien, a farmer himself on his down days, will be aware of it but listening to Tadhg Furlong yesterday one was reminded how it applies to humans too.

As the 'Tullow Tank' prepares for his first Ireland appearance since the same fixture against the Pumas 12 months ago, his Leinster colleague offered an insight into the flanker's eagerness to be released into the field. "It's great to see him back out there and as vocal as ever with his high-pitched voice," smiled his fellow farmer Furlong.

O'Brien took time to find his feet after making his latest comeback against Connacht at the end of September.

Lazy

Now he is finding his voice, too. "You have to roar because the props are so feckin' lazy," he laughs.

"Yeah, that's definitely a factor," he continues. "I'd say as you feel you're getting back to yourself, you're more vocal.

"After just getting back to Leinster for a few games, then coming in here, you're getting your job sorted first and foremost, making sure I was doing all the basics really well.

"And then you can start to give voice around different things if needs be. I've never come back in and spoken for the sake of it."

He has been silenced for too long. Argentina's return to Dublin reminds one that he missed out on that devastating World Cup defeat in 2015.

When Ireland created history against the All Blacks in Chicago, he was also an absentee. And last season, the most successful ever for Ireland and Leinster, he was in casualty.

Seán O’Brien poses for a portrait after training in Carton House, Maynooth ahead of tomorrow’s Test match against Argentina. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Seán O’Brien poses for a portrait after training in Carton House, Maynooth ahead of tomorrow’s Test match against Argentina. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

His cv is already decorated but, although you suggest a nagging sense of being unfulfilled might still course through his veins, he remains sanguine. "That's just the environment we're in. That's the life of a professional sportsman. You have to get on with it.

"I can't keep saying, 'Oh, I missed out on this, I missed out on that.' I have to look forward.

"Obviously, you have mixed emotions when there's stuff that happened, like last year.

"You are so happy for the lads, the effort they've put in, because you know what they've done to get there, how hard they've worked, the hours they put in every day.

"Then, to finally get to that place is brilliant for them. Obviously, you are disappointed as an individual that you have been injured and you do miss out on those big days.

"But, that's just a part of it. There's plenty of lads that have done that. I have probably been more unlucky than others missing out on big days."

Joe Schmidt identifies a characteristic trait that sees him still hungering for more despite the many physical handicaps that have ailed him in recent times.

 

"I'm not surprised. He's a stubborn man and once he's made his mind up about getting back to where he needs to be, he commits fully to things and all I can say is we're delighted to get him back on board," Schmidt said.

"What Tadhg said about Seánie is true, he has a contagious confidence. He's robust, he's experienced and people see him doing things on the pitch and they go, 'Yeah, I can get into this game on the back of that'."

And inevitably, the conversation switches to 2015 and the influence of players like O'Brien who, when absent, proved too difficult to replace, a situation Schmidt is loath to repeat in his likely farewell fling in Japan.

"We didn't quite have those players. You know, Paul O'Connell he's a colossus. People believe because he's delivered on so many occasions.

"People want to know where they're going and Johnny is the conductor that's been very much leading the orchestra for so long. The lineout acumen, losing O'Connell but then losing the leaper that Peter O'Mahony is.

"We can't afford to gauge our level of confidence based on what Seánie does. It's almost a human factor in trying to coordinate a group of people. Inevitably, people lead. Some people lead, they've led in the past and by the experiences they've accumulated and then, by the nature of other people, they're looking for someone to lead."

For his part, O'Brien appreciates the faith of his coach. "Yeah, Joe knows me a long time now. I suppose that trust factor is there but I have to show him and the rest of the coaches that I'm back to that level again.

"I'm stubborn in terms of I know what I want to achieve in my career. Obviously going through what I've done in the last year, I suppose I've assessed where I am and where I want to be.

"Starting from now and in the future. I've set myself little goals and I don't want to take a step back from that.

"I want to keep building nicely. That's the stubborn part, where I won't give in to it. I want to get back to being one of the best players.

"I definitely think over the last year, I suppose, I realised how important it is to enjoy every opportunity you get in this environment and even the province.

"It's making the most of the time you have. That is the thing I've been telling myself, to make sure you go out and do your best every time. That makes it even more special."

Irish Independent

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