Jimmy O'Brien has made two Champions Cup starts this season. Robbie Stephenson/INPHO

Versatile 7s graduate O'Brien making impressive progress with Leinster

The 24-year-old Kildare man is happy to play 13 or 15.

BACK IN 2018, Hugo Keenan, Will Connors, Shane Daly, Robert Baloucoune, and Jimmy O’Brien were all part of the Ireland 7s squad that suffered heartbreak at the Hong Kong 7s as they missed out on qualification onto the World Series.

Keenan was the only one of the quintet back a year later as Ireland succeeded in earning a place on the Series, and all of them have kicked on from that point in 2018 to show their quality with their provinces.

Keenan and Connors are now Ireland regulars under Andy Farrell, while Daly won his first Test cap last autumn. Baloucoune has just returned from injury for Ulster and will soon be back on the Ireland radar, having trained with them last year.

Leinster back O’Brien is seen as another player of great potential and while he hasn’t been in the Ireland mix yet, the 24-year-old continues to impress for his province in a season that has seen him make his first two Champions Cup starts.

As he progresses with Leinster, O’Brien is thrilled to see team-mates and close friends in  Keenan and Connors excelling with Ireland. 

“I’m delighted for them, I’m best mates with the two of them,” says O’Brien. “We played sevens together and came through at underage together.

“It shows how quickly it can happen, especially for Hugo. Hugo started the season and hadn’t played in a Champions Cup game. Obviously, he went in then and now he’s playing unreal. So it shows how quickly it can go and it’s class for the two lads.”

Having played for Leinster nine times last season, O’Brien already has 12 appearances under his belt in the current campaign.

Most of his starts have come at fullback but he has also been used on the left wing and at outside centre by Leinster.

rob-harley-and-jimmy-obrien O'Brien has mainly played at fullback and 13 for Leinster. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

“I’m probably a utility back with an emphasis on 15 and 13, but more so 15 at the moment because I’m playing there more,” says O’Brien of his role with Leinster.

“I’m very comfortable at playing 13 as well because I’ve played there the whole way up.” 

O’Brien also has previous experience at out-half in underage rugby with Newbridge College and he looks comfortable taking on playmaking responsibility with Leinster, while his communication is another strength. 

His left boot has also become a bit of a weapon for the province, with O’Brien refining some of the skill he built on GAA pitches growing up in Kildare.

“I was always like, ‘Yeah, I can kick the ball because I played GAA’.  It had helped because I can naturally strike a ball but probably over the last two years, I’ve really focused on different techniques.

“There’s a lot more to it and I’ve worked a lot with Bumper [Leinster kicking coach Emmett Farrell] in here now, really specific types of kicks, different types of striking it, so I worked on it a lot more and it definitely helps.”

Having made a successful return from a hamstring injury against Glasgow last weekend, O’Brien is raring to go for this Saturday’s crucial Pro14 clash with Ulster in Belfast.

“They’re going to be going for it, they need to win, so we know it’s going to be massive.”

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