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O'Brien vows to return 'a new man', as Leinster deny flanker was rushed back

The flanker has turned his attention to getting fit for the 2018/19 season.

O'Brien played just 343 minutes this season.
O'Brien played just 343 minutes this season.
Image: Ramsey Cardy

SEAN O’BRIEN’S INJURY-PLAGUED season is officially over, but the Leinster flanker has vowed to return ‘a new man’ as he faces into another lengthy period of rehabilitation post shoulder surgery.

The 31-year-old has been ridiculously unfortunate with injuries since returning from last summer’s Lions tour, playing just six matches for Leinster and 67 minutes in total since the start of January.

O’Brien missed Ireland’s Grand Slam-winning Six Nations campaign with a hip injury he sustained against Exeter Chiefs before Christmas, and on his return to action at the start of March, sustained a shoulder problem in the Pro14 draw with Scarlets.

After another period on the sidelines, O’Brien looked set to be fit for Leinster’s two-pronged trophy tilt and Ireland’s tour of Australia in June but suffered a further setback against Benetton a fortnight ago, before going under the knife last Friday.

While surgery means O’Brien will play no further part this season, it was the sensible choice given it now gives him the time to concentrate on getting back to full fitness ahead of the 2018/19 campaign.

“Incredibly disappointed for my season to be finished,” he wrote on Instagram earlier.

“I’ve had a tough year fighting with my body both mentally and physically but in a way I’m glad I’ve the chance now to get it right and ready for next season.

“I’ll be a new man and can look forward to so much. Thanks to everyone for your support and messages, means a lot to me.”

As the openside begins another long road back, Leinster scrum coach John Fogarty admits this latest setback is ‘a huge blow’ for the province as they bid to win a first double in the club’s history.

Sean O’Brien He sustained a fresh knock in the Pro14 defeat to Benetton a fortnight ago. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

With Josh van der Flier and Rhys Ruddock out injured, Leo Cullen hoped to have O’Brien back on deck for last weekend’s Champions Cup semi-final against Scarlets but in attempting to get him back in time, the Tullow native sustained a fresh knock on that vulnerable shoulder.

Fogarty doesn’t feel the process was rushed in any way.

“I don’t think so. The player and the physios will always work very closely and some stages you’re led by the player saying he’s feeling good and in other cases it’s more scientific. They worked very closely, I don’t think he was rushed back into things.

“He needed to try and test it during the weeks and he would have done so in training sessions and he looked and felt good and medically he presented quite well. It was an event in the game and he didn’t quite get there and they’ve got to go in now and fix it and that’s what they’ve done.

“It’s disappointing for Sean and he’s disappointed but he’s planning on his return already. He’ll take some time now to rest and get himself right to come back.”

Despite everything, O’Brien remains upbeat, as Fogarty explains: “I came in this morning and walked up to him, because I hadn’t seen him since his op, and sort of went ‘howya?’ and he had a big smile on his face.

“I think his age is probably a good thing for him, he understands the process now, he understands what he has to do. He is quite relaxed down there. He’ll enjoy some down time but he’ll plan forward. He’s fine, he’s in great form. I was surprised, like you, I thought ‘Jesus, how’s he going to handle this’ but he’s really good.”

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