SHOULDER SURGERY IN January, combined with a post-operation infection, cost Sean O’Brien approximately a stone in weight.
In a game where every pound or kilogram on the scales counts, and some players struggle to add any significant weight over years of their careers, that kind of vast drop must have been alarming.
Not only is the reduced mass a blow, the simultaneous decline in strength and power can be cruelly felt when the player returns to action. But there’s always been something different about Sean O’Brien.
Having made his comeback to action last weekend against Edinburgh, far ahead of when most would have imagined, the flanker is now in need of losing weight again, after surpassing his previous playing weight of almost 17 stone.
I’m back up probably a little bit too much at the minute, because I haven’t been on the field! There’s a bit [of weight] to come off me maybe, but that will come with match fitness,” continues O’Brien. “I’ll have to get that back pretty quickly [smiles].”
They don’t call him the Tullow Tank for nothing.
O’Brien admits that he “wasn’t happy” with his performance during 52 minutes on the RDS turf on Saturday, but acknowledges that rustiness was to be expected. Returning from a dislocation of any kind is never easy, and the Carlow man did feel some trepidation.
“You do notice it in the game a little bit, especially coming back in. I’d done contact the week before in training, but it’s in a controlled environment in training, whereas on the pitch it’s not controlled at all.
“You find yourself in different positions and it’s good to get into those positions, get a bit of confidence and know that it’s strong. I was pleased afterwards with the way it reacted. I’m a bit stiff and sore, but I was very pleased.”
There were pre-match concerns from some Leinster fans that O’Brien was rushing back from the injury too soon, that he may cause himself more long-term damage. The perception was that the player himself would have been pushing hard to play.
However, O’Brien rejects the notion, underlining the attitude that makes him such a high-quality player.
“No, no, I didn’t push it; I’d have been hoping to play against Toulon if I was pushing it [laughs]! No, all the boxes were ticked, all the markers that I had to get were hit and once they’re done, you go back in and get stuck in.
There was no real pushing it from my side of things. I wanted to make sure it was fully right before I went back.”
O’Brien is relieved to be involved for what he calls the “business end of the season,” but agrees that Leinster will need to improve on their performance against Edinburgh if Ulster are to be beaten at home this weekend.
If the back row can help his province to success and prove his fitness, Joe Schmidt may well call on him to tour Argentina with Ireland. However, there is a chance that the Kiwi will see more value in O’Brien having a full rest over the summer.
For the man himself, there are two sides to the coin.
“There’s pluses and minuses to both, you know? Going away on tour over there would be a nice place to go to, I’ve never been there. Obviously getting back in the Ireland set-up and getting back into the plays and system [would be good].
“On the other side of that, a long pre-season and a good rest might be good for some players who’ve had a long year. But, I suppose, I’ve been missing for the last four months and we’ll see what happens.”