‘We should have won 3-0 with the players we had’
O'Brien insists Lions overtrained for first All Blacks Test
Before Seán O'Brien left for New Zealand with the Lions, he made a promise to himself that he wasn't going to take a back seat and not speak up when he felt that something needed to be said.
Four years ago, he was on the fringes of the Test team and when that is the case, Warren Gatland doesn't tend to hold your opinion in a high regard, according to the Tullow native.
But as O'Brien learned last summer, voicing your concerns when you are an integral part of Gatland's plans doesn't always have the desired effect either.
For all of the concerns surrounding the hectic nature of the Lions tour, having a triple training session two days before the first Test certainly didn't help their cause. O'Brien was part of the leadership group that told the coaching staff that they felt it was too much but ultimately it fell on deaf ears.
"I think we should have won 3-0 with the players we had, we should have won the series," O'Brien insists.
"Looking back, I could be completely wrong, but if we had a little more structure during the weeks, more of an attack game-plan driven way earlier in the tour, we could have won 3-0.
"We did (speak out) at the time, but some of the coaches wanted to get info and they wanted to tick their boxes, and we did discuss it afterwards," O'Brien recalls. "Friday was very light but it was too late at that stage. People were trying to recover all day Friday.
"I think in the second week we got it perfect. We did a lot less, kept training short and sharp, and we were fresh come the weekend. Then in the last week we probably had too many days off at the start of the week."
O'Brien turned 30 earlier this year so the days of him sitting back and watching others call the shots are over. That hasn't always been the case for the flanker who admits that it has taken time for him to find his voice.
"I think going back a few years, I probably might not have said or had those conversations with the coaches.
"If you look at the chats I had with Gats, because I was playing well, he entertained me a bit more, and asked for my opinion on things, but if you're not playing well, he doesn't really talk to you.
"That's just the way it is. I didn't want the tour to pass by without me speaking up or saying a few messages that I thought was relevant to getting us to perform. I probably was confident enough four years ago, I was playing well going into that tour, but because he probably didn't have me in his head as a starter he probably didn't entertain me at all, so as a player you're going, 'If he's not talking to me, what do I have to do?'"
In Ireland, Joe Schmidt operates with a more open-door policy and while players' ideas might not always be implemented into the game-plan, they will always be taken on board.
"He (Schmidt) will see what it's like in his own head," O'Brien says. "He might come back to you and say, 'Right, yeah, we might try this variation.' A tour is different because you don't have that time. You have seven or eight weeks to make sure you are ticking all the right boxes so time is limited with players on the field.
"But the big difference with Joe is regardless of the time he will have the right things to put yourself into the right position, or to get pressure or to get points to get something out of it.
"We did that at times over there, don't get me wrong. There was some good things that we did and a lot of opportunities that we left out but going forward it can better obviously."
O'Brien's leadership role has coincided with him being in the best shape of his career. He is due to return to action with Leinster either next week or the following, against Munster.
For all of his outstanding performances for club and country in recent years, it is a rarity to see O'Brien captaining a side and he has a good idea about why that is the case.
"I would say a few years ago I was burning the candle at both ends," he admits. "For the likes of coaches seeing you coming down here (Tullow), for instance, once a week, or going to coach a team on a Sunday, it's probably not the best thing to do with your body in their eyes. I look at it in two ways. It's my release from rugby, coming down and going for a walk with the dogs or going shooting or whatever it might be.
"Even getting down and farming, they don't want you working. Your job is rugby obviously, and that's the most important thing. But I'd say from their perspective, that's why I've never been in that window (as a captain).
"When you're at a young age, mid-twenties, you think you can do all this stuff. Then as you go year on year and you've picked up a few injuries and knocks, you're going 'Well, what's contributing to all this?' Maybe I was on my feet too long or I didn't recover properly or I wasn't doing the right things, and you get smarter.
"But every year I go to a coach and ask, 'Where am I in your eyes at the minute' and he might say, 'Look, we think you're doing a little bit too much away from rugby in terms of getting home and driving up and down the road.'
"But would I change it? Looking back now, yeah I was probably doing a lot stuff when I was 22 to 25, and if I could go back I probably wouldn't do as much, but that's probably me as well, not saying no to stuff. I suppose it's a gradual learning curve when you're going through life."
Seán O'Brien was speaking at the announcement of Bank of Ireland's new five-year sponsorship with Leinster Rugby