Tuesday 20 February 2018

Relieved O'Brien looking ahead after difficult spell

Leinster's Sean O'Brien. Photo: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Leinster's Sean O'Brien. Photo: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

As periods in Sean O'Brien's career go, he will perhaps look back at the last few months as being some of the most difficult.

After what was arguably his finest hour in a green jersey against France in the World Cup, O'Brien was forced to watch Ireland's quarter-final defeat to Argentina from the stands after he was correctly suspended for punching Pascal Pape.

Like plenty of his team-mates, the Tullow native looked out of sorts since returning from the World Cup and after being diagnosed with vestibular impairment, he faced another spell on the sidelines.

The condition which affects balance was one that Leinster were understandably eager to tread carefully with but judging by O'Brien's man-of-the-match performance against Munster on Sunday, the spell out may well have been a blessing in disguise.

Having committed his future to Leinster last week after signing a new three-year deal, the 28-year-old has put an end to his luckless run.

"I don't know if it was scary but it was very frustrating," a relieved O'Brien admitted.

"Thankfully, it's sorted. Leinster have been very good with me and not rushing me back. It's felt grand and I felt very good out there.

"I wanted to play my part for the team and do my bit for the performance. There's been a lot of frustration over the past couple of weeks, it was more so about that than playing with any freedom."

With Leinster so desperately shorn of their bigger players leading by example in recent weeks, O'Brien's return seemed to galvanise those around him and although there is no getting around the fact that they are out of Europe, there is at least some cause for optimism after getting back to winning ways.

"The win was the most important thing obviously," he maintained.

"Communication is a big thing when the crowd are roaring and shouting and you're under a bit of pressure. I was happy with a lot of stuff in my game, I'm happy with other bits and pieces, it's just the overall thing was to come down here and win.

"We take pride in our defence and it's been working well in the last couple of weeks, we've been there or thereabouts in games and not finishing games the way we want to.

"The D has certainly been a big aspect of it and it was pretty good (against Munster), obviously a lot of room for improvements too but overall we can be happy with the defensive performance."

For coach Leo Cullen, having O'Brien back fit and firing is a massive boost as Leinster enter a crucial period in the Pro12.

With no European distractions, Leinster's prime focus will be on the league and ensuring that they don't miss out on a play-off spot for a second season in a row.

"It's great," Cullen beamed at O'Brien's return. "Even in the last few weeks Seanie's played a big role in terms of driving the group. We see him as a huge leader for the team and definitely we've missed his presence out on the field.

"It's his experience that he has as well, the presence he has and the respect he has amongst his peers, it's just fantastic to have him back."

Irish Independent

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