Saturday 26 May 2018

Sean O'Brien: We will all be happy for whoever gets Ireland captaincy

O'Brien and Reddan stress role of multiple leaders behind Ireland captain

Sean O’Brien doesn’t see any potential Ireland captaincy as a burden to his performances. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Sean O’Brien doesn’t see any potential Ireland captaincy as a burden to his performances. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

For all the unseemly fuss that everyone seems to be making about the Irish rugby captaincy, perhaps it should be a source of some mild relief that the principals are, if anything, somewhere south of fussed.

To some who prefer the isolation of an ivory tower, for example, there is a genuine fear that awarding the role to Jamie Heaslip might not end up in a reign of success.

Others fear, for example, that affording Sean O'Brien the status might result in him having to conduct most of his post-match media duties from the nearest emergency room, such is his contemporary prevalence to injure himself.

Within Joe Schmidt's squad, there remains a paradox; there are already so many leadership figures within it that the naming of the figurehead will arguably have more impact on those outside the camp rather than those within it.

"The reason there is so much speculation is because there are so many players who can do it, and when one guy is chosen, it will be hard to say you should have picked somebody else," sums up Eoin Reddan, with disarming simplicity.

In the past, captains were supposed to do so much heavy lifting by themselves; rarely would subordinates speak, on or off the field, or in the dressing-room, while the post-match banquet speech often prompted more anxiety than the game itself; being a best man was a cake-walk in comparison.

Of course, the leading candidates, O'Brien, Heaslip and Rory Best have all captained their country before during the 13-year period when Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell provided totemic leadership.

And that is what O'Brien firmly believes is the key issue; there are a variety of leaders already firmly embedded in the grouping, such that it should not make as much of a difference as the public might perceive when Schmidt eventually appoints O'Connell's successor.

"Nothing really changes," says O'Brien, who nevertheless admitted to being hugely honoured when bequeathed the role for a day for last autumn's Aviva World Cup warm-up against Scotland.

"I have always said that. The captain is just a word beside your name on the day. You just have to keep doing what you are doing. I don't see it as a burden or anything on you.

"The fuss is there because you want someone who is going to be one of the leading players on and off the field, who can influence things by what he does, what he stands for, how he leads the group, drives a key message during the week, keeping his standards to be the best he can be.

"When you look at previous captains like Paulie, Brian, that was what they did. They were the ultimate professionals.

"And whatever they said they backed it up by doing the business on the field. When you have someone like that on your side, you look to them, and you follow them."

This is Reddan's point, of the captaincy offering a continuation of an already extant leadership cabal rather than initiating a novel change in how the squad is commanded.

"In certain teams in certain years, it can be very important when you're running into an era where there's a whole new team with new guys who haven't been through a lot," the scrum-half explains.


"Whereas with the current Irish team, they have all been through ups and downs. That's probably why the players are relaxed about who will get it. Because all of us would play for whoever gets it.

"It's probably more important for the individual, that's where it is at the moment. It's going to be a huge day for one person and it's going to be nice for that person.

"And it will be nice for us all, it's nice to see your friends achieve something like that. It will be a nice day for the squad because we will be happy for whoever gets it.

"Joe is the kind of coach who will stand by who is picked, which will make it much easier for that person. And the players will stand by him too."

Which is why O'Brien admits he would jump at the opportunity to take the position. He's hardly going to shrug his shoulders and politely decline?

Establishing a mood through the week is another key aspect, as well as leading by example through play, rather than any singular ability to take decisions which, in the modern, structured game, are often dictated from the stands in any event.

"You have to have a feel for how the group is feeling," adds Reddan. "So the week of a match is important.

"Can you walk into a room and sense are we confident or over-confident, are things really clicking? Can you get that right and manage to turn it around?

"The mood is important. A lot of the decisions are made on the sidelines, particularly during a World Cup with so many permutations. When there's a kick, you usually are told what to do from the sideline."

Which is why the treatment meted out to poor England captain Chris Robshaw during the World Cup defeat puzzled Reddan.

"If the kicking tee is being waved at you, you take it," he says. "And if not, you don't. That was a bit strange, the whole Robshaw scenario, it doesn't happen like that in Ireland.

"And the fall-out from that wouldn't happen here either. We're a bit tighter than that."

The captain of a team can only be as strong as the personalities he leads.

"That is why we have the leadership group," asserts O'Brien. "You don't want to be yapping as a forward. You don't want to be doing too much yapping towards the backs.

"They have their own problems. They want to solve theirs. We want to solve ours. There are leaders within the whole group and over the last few years, lads on the bench have been leaders.

"And when they come onto the field, they have driven that aspect of it. So there are always leaders throughout the field."

As for the often odious media duties, O'Brien would hardly demur here either.

"Sure I always love seeing youse lads," he smiles.

O'Brien slams crisis talk as Ireland step up title hat-trick intentions

Despite the seemingly prevailing icy chill of foreboding sweeping through the domestic game presently, Sean O'Brien has insisted that these are "exciting times" for Irish rugby as Joe Schmidt prepares to name the squad that will attempt a record hat-trick of Six Nations titles.

Perhaps emboldened by the recruitment of so many emerging stars into the Leinster ranks this season, some of whom O'Brien readily insists can feature for Ireland this spring, the Carlow man remains stridently optimistic.

Where others survey the rubble of ruination, he eyes merely the foundation stones for further achievement.

"I don't see it like that anyway," is the back-row's terse dismissal of any crisis talk. "I think that it's an exciting time for us again. You lose a few players but you move on very quickly.

"With the talent that is in the provinces now, all the younger lads coming through, competition is still going to be very, very high.

"There is enough leadership there, even with the lads that have gone. I wouldn't be thinking anything negative, we're looking forward to the challenge.


"I think we'll have a very, very strong squad this year and a hugely talented and exciting squad.

"Every year it gets tougher to win, especially when you're defending your title and Iain Henderson is out and you lose Paul O'Connell. They're two massive players, but you have other lads to step up to the plate.

"That's the exciting part about it. There's other lads trying to fill in their roles, they're eager and bring a lot of energy to the whole thing."

Openside Josh van der Flier is one obvious name that crops up but Tadhg Furlong is poised to maintain his upward curve, while Stuart McCloskey and Garry Ringrose have all made firm claims.

"Any of the players that have filled in this year for the provinces are able to play at that level," insists O'Brien with, dare we say it, the gravitas of a captain in waiting.

"Under Joe's guidance as well, and the way he'll want us to play. . . once they're doing their jobs they'll fit into the team.

"It's an exciting time, there are a lot of really good young lads coming through.

"Look at Ross Molony, the game he played and the maturity he showed at the weekend.

"Josh is going to be unbelievable. Look at what he's done this year, his workrate and his general play, he's phenomenal. He's definitely going to be in the reckoning, he's one of the most in-form players in the whole competition."

O'Brien would happily swap the number on his green jersey. "I'd happily go around and try pinch balls off the lads he's chopping!"

Irish Independent

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