Wednesday 26 June 2019

'I was roaring at the TV like anyone' - Sean O'Brien reveals 'hurt' at missing out on Grand Slam

Seán O’Brien with six-year-old Andrew Olaf Bolton from De La Salle Palmerston RFC at the launch of the Bank of Ireland Leinster rugby summer camps david Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Seán O’Brien with six-year-old Andrew Olaf Bolton from De La Salle Palmerston RFC at the launch of the Bank of Ireland Leinster rugby summer camps david Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Ruaidhri O’Connor

Sean O'Brien watched as the Aviva Stadium rose to acclaim his recently retired team-mate Jamie Heaslip and the steely professional within reasoned: it could be worse, that could be me.

Injuries have wrecked his season and denied him a second Six Nations title and a first Grand Slam. They threaten his ability to contribute to a Leinster run-in rich in potential for silverware and yet he remains full of belief that his career has a long way to run.

With every injury, the rumour mill gathers more volume as it ushers in the end. O'Brien's contemporaries are slowly stepping away, injury is claiming them one by one. Heaslip, Luke Fitzgerald, Felix Jones, Kevin McLaughlin and Eoin O'Malley all went before their time, but he has no intention of giving up just yet.

He has plenty of unfinished business on his agenda once he is clear of the shoulder injury that kept him out of the final two Six Nations games and the Champions Cup quarter-final win over Saracens.

He hopes to return to action next weekend when Leinster take on Zebre, thus proving his fitness for the semi-final meeting with Scarlets.

The good thing about Leinster's form in his absence is that there is plenty to work with when you're making up for lost time.

And looking down on Heaslip from the stands he felt relieved that he has the opportunity to continue.

"The only thing I said to myself was, 'It could always be worse', you know?" he said.

"At least I'm still getting back from these things and I don't have something that is career-ending or putting me in jeopardy of my career being ended.

"So, they're all fixable things - touch wood - so far. We're in a lucky place to be in the situation we're in, some of us.

"That's why, when we have opportunities to win trophies and be a part of something special, you don't want to miss out."

Missing out is something he's had to do, unfortunately.

He has two European Cups, the 2015 Six Nations, a Challenge Cup and a couple of PRO14s, but injury has denied him plenty.

"It's probably part and parcel of it now, but it's tough, like, obviously," he said. "You miss the big days, those big days that you've worked so hard for and you want to be involved in.

"When you miss the likes of a Grand Slam year like this year, it does hurt a little bit.

"But I always try to look at the positives. Probably a few years ago I didn't look at much positives, but now I try to.

"So next year is a World Cup year and there's a Six Nations to play, so there's two massive opportunities to go and win two more trophies, hopefully."

He watched the Grand Slam game from a pub in Tullow, helplessly cheering along with the rest of the country.

"I watched it in a local pub down beside my brother-in-law's house with my best friend and about ten others so it was real quiet," he recalled.

"There was a few moments in the game where I don't know if I was a fan or not. The frustration would come out when England were getting a bit of ascendancy at different times but I was shouting and roaring at the telly like anyone else and delighted at the end of it all.

"It was very frustrating, yeah, but you can only be delighted for the way they went about their business. They were always in control."

Although Joe Schmidt consistently name-checked him when speaking to the press, O'Brien didn't have any contact with the Ireland coach.

He was confident that he could play a part in the final games if he came through his return match against Scarlets, but his shoulder put paid to that plan and so he was left on the margins.

"I haven't heard from Joe at all. Once you're out, you're out. Every player knows that. The physios are in contact obviously and relaying stuff back to Joe but that's the way it's always been and that's always been his style.

"You don't pay much attention to it because when you're fit you know that you could potentially be involved and when you're not you know you're out. The management has a massive job to do then that they are prepared as best as possible and that's what they've done.

"That was an incredible campaign, they way they went about it. Hopefully there's better days ahead."

Having watched Leinster's young-guns tear it up for province and country in recent weeks, O'Brien is excited about joining them.

Although his planned return to fitness would present a selection headache to his coaches, he believes himself and Dan Leavy in particular would combine quite well.

"I'd rather be on the field with Dan, probably, as well," he said. "He's playing unbelievably well. But all the young lads are like that. They've no fear and that's the thing about them. And they haven't felt that losing feeling either. Hopefully, it stays that way.

"The strength and depth is unbelievable. We all know everyone can do the job. If someone is 100 per cent and someone is 80 per cent you go with them at the end of the day in those big games."

Once he gets back, O'Brien wants to finish the season strong and go to Australia with Ireland.

"I think I need those games," he said. "I need that level now again to get used to it again, to get my body battle-hardened again.

"That's why I want a few games, I don't want to play a game and have a week off or anything like that. I want as much minutes as I can get to get a bit of consistency and flow."

Leinster and Ireland have gotten on fine without him, but they'd welcome him back with open arms all the same.

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