JOINING THE CELEBRATIONS in a suit, safely out of target
range for popping Champagne and with no need of a post-match change or ice-pack
is not the role Sean O’Brien would have pictured for himself in the glorious
end to Leinster’s season.
Stuart Lancaster, Jonathan Sexton and Sean O'Brien celebrate
after the gameO’Brien joins the celebrations in Bilbao.Source: Dan
On Saturday, O’Brien’s provincial team-mates capped a
historic Champions Cup and Pro14 double. 14 of them can lay claim to a treble
too, after their role in securing the Grand Slam with victory in Twickenham.
Johnny Sexton and James Ryan haven’t even a defeat between them. The perfect
“‘The perfect season’, and I’m not involved in it,” O’Brien
tells The42 with a smiling wince.
It would take a short memory to agree with the 31-year-old
on that front. The openside came into the season on the back of a starring role
with the Lions in New Zealand. He looked in fine fettle again when it came time
to help Ireland beat South Africa and Argentina. And his power was put to good
use through two pivotal dogfights against Exeter Chiefs in the Champions Cup.
Unfortunately, O’Brien’s season was derailed after an hour
against the former English champions in the Aviva Stadium. Winter hip surgery
kept him out of the Six Nations and two problematic comeback attempts ended
with an appointment for shoulder surgery.
“I’ve had a very frustrating year, the lads won every
competition they could have won,” adds O’Brien, “look, that’s life I suppose.”
With that philosophical approach in hand, O’Brien refuses to
dwell on the defining moments he has missed out on this season. There are
prizes even bigger than a Grand Slam on the horizon for Ireland to chase, and
that is where O’Brien has set his cross-hairs; a World Cup, defending titles
and a chance to measure up against the All Blacks again in November.
“You get those bad days. Hopefully I’ll have a lot of good
days ahead. Next year being a World Cup year there’ll be a lot of excitement.
We’ll have some great matches next November and in the Six Nations, then
leading into the World Cup.
There’s so much still to be won, that’s the way I’m looking
at it. I’m going to get very greedy next year trying to win everything.”
It’s all too easy to get a touch gloomy about the future
durability of a player as abrasive as O’Brien, and the wrong side of 30,
requiring surgery on two major joints. However, there are possible positives
The Carlow man is on track to take a full part in Leinster’s
pre-season training this summer. If he returns to action September then his
body will have been through just 67 minutes of competitive rugby in the space
of nine or 10 months. That may not quite be the sort of sabbatical that Richie
McCaw took in 2013, but being out of the firing line could have its long-term
“In a way I’m glad
I’ve the chance now to get it right,” O’Brien wrote on Instagram about his
shoulder in April. In an attritional game, the chance to wind himself up and
arrive as a cavalry of sorts for club and country is plenty to pin hope on.
“Once I knew what the problem was and that it was fixable, I
was happy. It’s not something that will effect me again down the line,
hopefully. It’s an opportunity to come back bigger and stronger and come back
better than ever.
“There’s always an opportunity when you have an injury like
that. It’s something I was trying to rehab for a while and it wasn’t really
working, trying to come back and play.
“It was messing with my head a bit, so when I did have surgery
I was just glad it was done and dusted and it was fixed, then I can move on.
“Get into pre-season now and get really fit and strong at
the start of the season and hopefully get an injury-free year.”
In the meantime, O’Brien isn’t likely to find himself short
of things to do while his peers are away on tour in Australia.
In a sport that promises little longevity and an abundance
of careers cruelly cut short, it’s imperative that rugby players make efforts
to put building blocks in place for their post-rugby lives. Between the farm,
the odd business venture and his passion for Carlow sport, O’Brien seems
naturally adept at poking fingers in a variety of pies.
Among O’Brien’s interests off the field is on the paddock.
He is speaking with The42 not just as an ambassador for Horse Racing Ireland,
but as a racehorse owner.
Carlow’s Championship win over Kildare and Leinster’s
victory over Scarlets were not the only reasons for O’Brien to celebrate over
the past week. On Thursday, Rovetta – a four-year-old filly he part-owns
through the Capel Street Syndicate – finished fourth in Tipperary on its first
outing under new ownership.
Being part of a syndicate means the cost and risk of owning
a horse is spread between five and 20 people, something O’Brien points out can
make the venture more accessible to a range of income levels.
“People don’t understand syndicates enough. It’s a real
affordable way of getting involved if you’re into racing, into horses. It’s
easy on your pocket, it’s great fun. Especially when you’ve a number of people
involved – the more the merrier – with a syndicate, it doesn’t matter what
level you want to get in on with a horse. It’s perfect for whatever level you
want to come in at, it’s easily done.”
Rovetta, the third horse O’Brien has been connected with
after the eponymous Tullow Tank and Koola Boola, is trained by Jessica
Harrington. So in a yard with a fresh 1,000 Guineas winner and last year’s
Cheltenham Gold Cup-winner, there is little temptation for O’Brien to get antsy
about taking a back-seat role in this particular sport.
It’s a great distraction, it’s more of a hobby for me.
That’s the enjoyable part for me, (that) it gets you away from your main job.
The lads I’m involved with like that as well, going down to the races, getting
away from the real world for a day or two.
“I’m very relaxed about the whole thing. I don’t know enough
about training a horse or any of that to be forward about saying different
things (to Harrington).
“Trust the trainer, trust she’s doing the job for you and know
what’s best for everyone involved in the syndicate and the horse.
“That makes our job easy, we can just enjoy the days out and
the craic. She’s had a good few winners in the last few weeks. It’s a good
place to have a horse at the minute. that yard is in great form, she has a good
team down there. Anytime you go down to the yard there’s a good buzz around he
place, so she’s flying.”
There’s been a special mood around the Leinster training
yard of late too, and O’Brien will be chomping at the bit to get back in his
stride ahead of a big 2019.
The Capel Street Syndicate are leasing Rovetta and aim to take in some
of the Irish summer racing festivals. Visit racehorseownership.ie to find out
more information on the opportunities of racehorse ownership and syndication.