Seán O’Brien hoping to be fit in time for Glasgow clash
Leinster flanker facing hot competition for starting place as he recovers from hip injury
Sean O’Brien in action against Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park. “I know when I am fit that I can mix it with them all, so that’s what I need to be: fit.” Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Seán O’Brien says if we all took a scan of our hips we would probably find something wrong. He’s right. A misalignment here, a flaw there and at 60-years-old we feel the years.
The difference is O’Brien’s G-forces and collisions from which most athletes would not stand up. And here he is again fighting a private war on another front.
The Lions and Ireland flanker’s return won’t be this week. But he is hopeful the tightness in his hip will have relaxed enough for the meeting with Glasgow in the fifth round of the European Champions Cup and then Montpellier.
O’Brien has been told he has “shallow hips” a problem he has always had but it flared going into Leinster’s European game against Exeter. It hasn’t left him. Because of the importance of the game, the opposition, he could have, should have sat it out – but didn’t.
“Probably the clientele we were coming up against was one thing, and the importance of the game,” he explains. “If I didn’t think I would have added to the game I would have pulled it myself.
“It was just tightness and there was nothing really that I could have pulled or anything like that, it just would have got sore. So that’s why I played, but I felt good to play.”
O’Brien has had previous issues with the labrum, a ring of cartilage and has had work done on both sides. This time he says is just tightness, a maintenance problem rather than an engine failure.
“Yeah exactly,” he says closing the subject. “If there was a final in the morning, I’d probably play.”
Van der Flier made 34 tackles against Connacht, Deegan 26 with only lock Ross Molony’s 27 tackles splitting the two backrows.
“I’m comfortable enough in my own skin,” says O’Brien, respectful to the younger players but also chilled about any sort of reckoning.
“You’d expect them lads to do that, especially those two [Leavy and van der Flier]). Every game they’ve played, they’ve played really well.
“Max is a bit different, he’s coming into the squad now and playing really well too. He’ll take his opportunities but there’s probably an awful lot of learning from his side of things. I know when I am fit that I can mix it with them all, so that’s what I need to be: fit.”
The younger players have become a constant theme of Leinster and over the last five years O’Brien’s role has changed with the age profile.
Academy players now appear boots on the ground almost ready made, their fault lines barely visible and always eager to add to the gene pool.
“The culture we have now is one they have been involved in, added to and evolved. They have grown up with it the last year or two so it is theirs. It is not Brad Thorn’s or Nathan Hines’ or Leo’s or any of those lads,” says O’Brien.
“That was the culture we were involved in then and it has to change as new players come in or they won’t know what it is about.”
He looks at James Ryan and already sees a potential leader. His attitude, his physical precociousness, his footballing sense, he is a player who can “take the whole thing forward”.
Like O’Brien, Ryan is his own man, his own player but there’s a streak of Paul O’Connell in the lock.
“James is stone mad. Paulie was mad too,” quips O’Brien. “But in a different way. Everyone is comparing him to Paulie. Physically he’s a specimen.”
And a hand grenade is lobbed towards Munster and O’Connell’s near deity status. More Leinster upstarts may be some people’s view on that, although, they could be in the minority.
“He is a very good rugby player. He could be better than Paulie,” adds O’Brien pulling the pin as he throws.
This week though comes too early for contact – as it does for the recovering Joey Carbery. His forearm has been liberated from the cast and he’s moving to do some ball work. It is a matter of time.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” says Carbery smiling. “Back on the pitch this week.”
It is probably too late for the European window. Like O’Brien he knows it. Small steps.