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Versatile Jimmy O'Brien happy to be Leinster's Jack of all trades

O’Brien has featured in a number of positions across the Leinster backline this season.

Leinster back Jimmy O'Brien.
Leinster back Jimmy O'Brien.
Image: Dave Winter/INPHO

IN A SQUAD as competitive as Leinster’s, it pays to be versatile. 

Jimmy O’Brien is a case in point. O’Brien has started 14 games for the province this season – nine at fullback, three at centre and two on the wing, while also offering cover at out-half.

Despite a couple of frustrating injury setbacks, it’s helped him put together his best season yet in terms of first-team involvement, totalling 915 minutes on the pitch across 16 appearances. 

“I’ve kind of embraced it this season,” O’Brien says of his versatile role in the squad. 

“Whatever position, he (Leo Cullen) just kind of looks at me, and ‘Can you play there?’ – ‘Yeah, no problem.’ There have been three or four times this season where during the week, he just comes up to me and goes ‘Cover 10 again?’ and I’m ‘Yeah, no doubt.’ Hopefully it helps anyway.”

While being able to play across the backline is a handy string to O’Brien’s bow, the other side of the argument is that the ability to cover so many positions can work against a player when it comes to nailing down a regular place in the team. Over the next couple of seasons, O’Brien will surely try make one of those positions his own.

“I don’t know if I could nail down one to be honest, 13 and 15 are my two favourites. I cover the wing, last week (against Glasgow) I had to play left wing, I’ve covered 10 three or four times this season now because some of the lads had bad luck with injuries. But 13 or 15 are my two favourites, definitely.

I like being a playmaker. On the wing you’re kind of holding the width, it’s hard to come in off the wing and be that second ball-player, where at 13 and 15, you get that freedom, you’re a bit removed from the 10 but not too far out, you can work with him and be that second ball-player.”

The 24-year-old has felt the benefits of the extra exposure this season, but admits some of his injury issues have been difficult to deal with.

O’Brien make his Champions Cup debut with an 80 minute performance against Montpellier in December, but then lasted just nine minutes of the home game against Northampton Saints before a failed HIA ended his afternoon. 

He was then sidelined for a month after injuring his hamstring against Munster in January, and missed another two months after suffering another hamstring injury against Zebre in March.

“Obviously I wanted to play in Europe, and I did in those games over Christmas, and then after that, it was kind of frustrating in the second half of the season,” he says.

jimmy-obrien-is-tackled-by-grant-stewart-and-rob-harley O'Brien has featured 16 times for Leinster this season. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“I got the hamstring injury, came back for a couple of games and then I did it again, so that was frustrating, I couldn’t get a run of games going.

“I’d be pretty good at parking it (the disappointment) but at the time it did get me down, definitely the second one. The first one, I was ‘Oh, I’ll back in contention for the European games,’ but when I got the second one, it was definitely frustrating. You just to kind of get on with it, it’s part of the game and you have to get used to it.

“Overall, I was happy with it (the season),” he continues.

I definitely got a lot of experience this year. Just kind of being way more comfortable playing the game and hopefully with the experience, get more used to playing. Obviously I’ve been playing different positions, just getting used to each position and being calm on the pitch. 

“When you first make your debut, you’re kind of like a headless chicken running around and you hope not to make a mistake but when you get more experience, you take more a leadership role and make better decisions and stuff like that. That’s the biggest thing I found as I got experience.”

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With his injury issues hopefully behind him, O’Brien has ambitions of playing some part in Ireland’s July Tests against Japan and the USA, but admits he is yet to have any contact with Andy Farrell this season.

“I’m not sure if I’m (going to be) involved, but I’d definitely love to be, it’s definitely a goal of mine. That was one of the frustrations with the injury, I wasn’t going to get too many games (as a result). It’s just trying to get back and get as many games as I could before the end of the season. 

“I’ve no doubt I’d be ready. I’d love to do it, I’d relish it. If I was picking the team I’d be in it, but it’s not my decision. But yeah, I definitely think I’d be ready.”

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Ciarán Kennedy

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