O'Brien putting pedigree from out-half and Westmeath GAA to use on Ireland's wing

Mullingar’s U20 rugby international has not severed ties with Gaelic Football entirely just yet.

Conor O'Brien Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

RUGBY HAS BEEN Ireland Under 20 back Conor O’Brien’s primary focus for some time now. But Gaelic Football was his first love, and he still likes to keep in contact with the old flame now and then.

O’Brien was arguably the stand-out back from his wing position in the reversal to France in Narbonne.

All was not lost with defeat, the Trinity business student looks back on an intimidating atmosphere as a valuable learning curve. As was the biggest crowd he has played in front of since Westmeath’s 2013 All-Ireland Minor Football quarter-final defeat to Mayo in Tullamore.

Michael Hall and Conor O'Brien Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

There’s a wry smile when he’s asked to confirm his position. Powerful, high-ball catching midfielders tend to come to rugby with some built-in skills that can be a competitive edge – especially in the back three.

“It might be a bit of an advantage in the air, other countries aren’t going to be as used to fielding high balls so frequently, so I try to use it to my advantage whenever I can.”

From time to time in the summer months, O’Brien will find himself back in a Mullingar Shamrocks midfield, but his position on the rugby field isn’t quite as clear cut.

Since training with Andy Wood in Clontarf he has been seen as a winger, yet he still feels at home at outside centre. O’Brien jokes that a brief stint as an openside clearly didn’t work out. When the call came from Ireland U18s in 2013, his name was in the number 10 slot, and he credits that experience close to the attacking fulcrum as a help as he moved up through levels and grades.

Christoper Kaiser with Jimmy O'Brien and Conor O'Brien Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I started off playing competitively – (as in) full-size pitches – playing at 10 and gradually started moving out.

“I don’t know if it’s good or bad that I’m being moved further and further from 10, but I can cover a good few positions at the back which is an advantage I suppose.

Definitely starting out at 10 is an advantage. You make decisions and when you start moving out you’ve more time to make decisions.”

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“I’m not trying to set myself in one position, I’m still open for (anywhere) but I’m definitely trying to develop my skill-set as much as possible and see where it goes from there and see which position suits me best.”

That kind of adaptability would certainly be music to Joe Schmidt’s ears, a man who shares a Mullingar heritage of sorts.

And after O’Brien had the chance to train against the senior internationals on his home turf last Friday, he found himself getting a taste of the adulation routinely directed Schmidt’s way as he was herded in amongst the swarm of selfies and autographs.

“A few of us got roped into it, but I’m not sure if they wanted ours or seniors’… we were graffitiing a few pieces of paper.”

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Sean Farrell

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