O'Brien takes his chance after knocking on the door of opportunity
There comes a time when you have to rap on opportunity’s door because it won’t always come knocking on yours.
As midfielder Conor O’Brien began his third year in the Leinster Academy last summer, he knew the prospect of graduation this May loomed large but he also wondered what was the point if he didn’t have to endure any real examination of his education?
And so, following in the glorious tradition of unhappy soccer strikers striving for justice, the Westmeath man knocked on the manager’s door. Politely, mind.
“What do I have to do to get some opportunities?”
Leo Cullen was surprised, but also relieved that someone looking for opportunity had knocked on a door rather than waiting for the opposite to happen.
“He needs to understand that we have confidence, so when we put him in there, we think he is ready,” said Cullen. “So he just needs to back himself now because he has lots of ability and we have got a lot confidence in him.”
Cullen wasn’t the only one; Felipe Contepomi, once one of the world’s finest backs, was also unsure as to the readiness of a player who had been in the Leinster camp for so long but hadn’t pushed on.
At one stage, the fiery Puma told O’Brien he was playing like an “amateur”. The assessment served as lightning rod to the player’s ambition.
“He provides a lot of constructive criticism,” says O’Brien. “He means well and sometimes it’s harsh, but he’ll be like ‘this will make you a better player’.
“You look at yourself in videos and every week you’re looking at different things you’re doing and your movements off the ball. That’s a big thing for me, not following the play.
“He was saying I was playing almost like an amateur, following the play and trying to get involved in everything, whereas the best option is to sit back and get into the right position. And when you’re in the right position you can produce what you’re capable of doing.”
The evidence could be seen on Saturday, admittedly against what at times represented a set of mannequins in the Ulster defence.
His solo try in the first half combined many attributes: poise and power, not to mention a deceitful step and then the confidence to zig-zag through a posse of flailing defenders.
With Leinster down Robbie Henshaw, O’Brien might be knocking on the door again this week to ensure he is registered for the final two rounds of European pool action.