Carlow hoping Seán O’Brien’s example rubs off

Ireland flanker helped his native county prepare for the Championship and tough Leinster quarter-final against Meath

Fact: the most destructive sportsman living on this island is a Junior B Carlow footballer. Only problem is Anthony Rainbow can't pick him for Sunday's Leinster quarter-final against Meath at Dr Cullen Park.

Blame Joe Schmidt, Matt O’Connor and a healing shoulder. And anyway, the Gavin Duffy experiment hasn’t exactly worked but the sight of Seán O’Brien in spray-on yellow and green gear trotting on to a windswept field in the midlands recently demonstrated the constant crossover between Gaelic football and professional rugby.

O’Brien may not be permitted to prowl the Carlow square on Sunday but it didn’t stop him calling Rainbow during the winter months.

"I gave him [Rainbow] a ring and said 'Do you mind if I have a word with the lads and do a few sessions with them?', and he said, 'Yeah, absolutely'," O'Brien told The Irish Times in March.


“I go down every couple of weeks when they’re training, or whatever. I do a little bit of mental stuff with them, give them little triggers in training and what not.

More professional

“They’ve reacted to it well and they’re a bit more professional about how they’re doing things. There’s a lot to do within the county board, a lot to be dished out there, I think, over the next while.

“I think the culture down there in the last few years has been pretty poor and I thought now that there’s a batch of young lads in there they might change it.”

Rainbow, an All Star wing back with Kildare in his time, is working hard to make that a reality so O’Brien – coming from one of the most successful team cultures in Irish sport and offering his services for free of charge – was a genuine gift horse.

“Seán was with us in the dressingroom, he talked to the guys about their diet and took part in training,” said Rainbow. “Then he popped up for a junior game with his own club, The Fighting Cocks. He has a huge interest; he’s a Carlow man one hundred per cent. It’s great he has that interest.”

Rainbow and the Carlow players haven’t seen Tullow’s tank since his shoulder strengthened up enough to play an impact role in Leinster’s seasonal run-in but considering what Meath are bringing down the road this weekend a team talk from the Irish flanker would go down a treat.

“We have a huge task ahead of us,” Rainbow continued. “Meath are a well-established side, even with their few injuries. A lot of people are writing us off already but we’ll put up a fight.”

Cruciate ligament

As for the Royal county, Conor Gillespie and Eamonn Wallace are part of the ever growing list of cruciate ligament victims, while Eoin Harrington’s broken jaw has him sipping from a straw, but manager Mick O’Dowd can call on Mickey Newman, Stephen Bray and Brian Meade again.

Shane O’Rourke is another seeking to reignite what was once a promising inter-county career.

It was suggested to O’Dowd that in the post-Seán Boylan era the work beneath the surface in Meath left them with a lost generation.

“Well, there was a few Leinster minors won in that period 2001, 2003, 2009, 2011, 2012],” he began, before conceding: “I think everyone within the county would maybe accept we took our eye off the ball. We had a period there in the mid-1980s to 1999 where we were winning at underage, winning at senior. Four All-Irelands in 12 years. Maybe everyone, clubs in general, realised the work that needs to be done.

“We just have to knuckle down and work hard at every level in the county starting with the clubs.”

This year the under-21s made a Leinster final for the first time in 13 seasons only to fall off Dublin in a not dissimilar fashion to the seniors in last year’s provincial decider.

“All the great champions keep evolving. If you are the challenger you have to be ready to deal with what they have. We were very good in the first half until we fade but we where there until the second goal went in.

“Dublin made changes that had a big impact. We probably weren’t able to match them in that regard. It’s a good challenge and one we always like to rise to.”

But in the same breath O’Dowd is aware that silencing Rainbow’s Carlow must be done with the subtly of assassins.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent