Dublin: 13°C Saturday 23 October 2021

Sean O'Brien: Lions victory 'top of the pile' but Irish success comes first

The Leinster flanker has a spot of farming, then celebrating, to do when he gets home to Carlow.

Sean O'Brien speaks to the media at Dublin Airport.
Sean O'Brien speaks to the media at Dublin Airport.
Image: ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

SEAN O’BRIEN HAD some big rugby boots to step into when Lions captain Sam Warburton was injured for the series-deciding Test match against Australia in Sydney.

The Welshman made nine tackles, won two lineouts and had forced three turnovers in a huge but losing 62-minute effort in the Second Test. O’Brien entered the fray as Warburton, hamstring pulled, limped out. He replaced Jamie Heaslip, his Leinster and Ireland teammate, in the closing stages and was given the 7 jersey a week later as Heaslip was forced to watch from the stands at ANZ Stadium.

The Tullow Tank lasted 59 minutes, hobbling through his 10 minutes, and led his team for tackles with 13 landed, level with captain Alun Wyn Jones. He was part of a dominant pack that had the Wallabies reeling and justified his elevation to Test starter. Series winner has a nice ring to it too.

O’Brien told TheScore.ie, “It was one of those days you’ll never, ever forget. At the end of the game I even felt a bit sick, with the whole atmosphere and soaking everything in. It was an unbelievable experience, the whole tour and, thankfully, we came out on top. It will live forever, now, in my memory.”

The flanker referred to the Lions’ three-day celebrations, during which he showed up at the Cock & Bull bar in Sydney [singing I Will Wait by Mumford and Sons], as a ‘good bit of craic and a few sing-songs’.

Sean O’Brien on the charge in the Lions’ Third test win. (©INPHO/Billy Stickland)

Accolades and trophies have followed the 26-year-old since he first broke into the Leinster team. He is a two-time Heineken Cup champion, European Player of the Year [2011] and won the Amlin Cup and Pro12 title earlier this summer. O’Brien declared:

Obviously [winning] this tour ranks right at the top. Top of the pile at the minute. Not too many people have done what we’ve done.”

O’Brien’s off-season will be just shy of four weeks but he will be kept well entertained and occupied by friends and family. Catching up on tales from home in return for swapping stories of ending the Lions’ 16-year wait for a series win. “The hay is down at the minute,” he added when asked if he would be drawn into duties on his Carlow farm.

The rugby landscape has shifted slightly for O’Brien and he will be playing under a new coach, Matt O’Connor, at Leinster and a familiar face, Joe Schmidt, for Ireland. “I’m looking  forward to getting in and talking to Matt. It’s something new, something different and a new challenge. That’s what makes it so exciting.”

“Winning a Lions Series isn’t going to affect me or the type of player I am,” said O’Brien, who is already targeting another date with the Aussies — 16 November at Lansdowne Road. He said:

The Lions is the pinnacle of so many lads’ careers. This will be up there at the minute but we’ve had some great days for our clubs as well and, hopefully, a couple of great days with our country to come.”

No comment from O’Driscoll or Heaslip as Irish Lions welcomed home

In pics: Weary Irish Lions arrive back to hot and hectic Dublin Airport

About the author:

Patrick McCarry

Read next: