big game hunter
Sean O'Brien: 'I'm not going to go out like Tarzan and run around like a headless chicken'
Ireland’s powerful openside is patiently following the road to recovery, so probably won’t be travelling to Rome for the Six Nations opener.

AS IF WE didn’t know already, Sean O’Brien just ain’t like regular rugby players.

While most people like to wind down in the peace and quiet. The Tullow Tank prefers to spend his relaxation time roaming the countryside… and shattering the silence with a little help from his shotgun.

Sean O'Brien Billy Stickland / INPHO File photo of O'Brien - presumably before the black lab came along. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

It’s a good thing he’s right-handed. Because this year of prolonged shoulder injuries would been even more frustrating had he not been able to take aim at some Carlow fowl, pull the trigger and feel the butt of the gun against his strong shoulder – his right shoulder – before setting Cedar and Cocoa off in chase of whatever might fall.

“Living in the trees,” he laughs, a hunter in his habitat.

“I have a black labrador and a springer spaniel and I go off for the day with them. You’re just on your own, disappear out for a walk,” he says wistfully as he pictures the scene far from a table full of journalists.

“Any chance I got, any day off I had, I went off with them. Done a little bit on the farm but nothing major, I was trying to chill out more than work as such.”

O’Brien is set to make a tentative comeback after a year of double surgery on his left shoulder. The first, a dislocation that kept him out of Ireland’s Championship-winning Six Nations squad. The second compounded his annoyance as an infection was found in the joint just when he thought he was healed.

Maybe O’Brien has been chastened by the ‘comeback’ that was abandoned after just one game this season. Or maybe it’s just a lot easier to be patient in a World Cup year when there’s so much incentive further on down the track. Either way, he’s more than happy to feel his way back to the peak this time around. The 27-year-old is determined to make his comeback right, rather than make it quick.

I want to come back and show people that I can still rock on. I’m not going to go out like Tarzan and run around the place like a headless chicken.

“I want to be accurate and good at what my job is and get back to doing my basics well. It’s been a long time since I played a game of rugby so I’m going to be a bit rusty. That’s why those two or three games or hit outs will stand to me big time.”

The Tullow man was eager to preach caution about about his prospects immediately after tonight’s clash with the England Saxons in Cork. Instead of entertaining thoughts of Rome on February 8, he speaks in terms of following up a Wolfhounds outing with a game in the blue of Leinster or Leinster A.

Had he been unable to play this evening, he surmises, “France would definitely be out.” And when you consider Joe Schmidt’s hope that he be involved ‘in the first half’ of the Six Nations, then England on March 1 looks the most likely setting for his long overdue return to the Test arena.

That’s where we will see the fruits of O’Brien’s hard labour in the recovery room, a process broken down into small, more manageable, steps to keep O’Brien sane even when he was unarmed.

“I think at other times rehab is very tedious and you’re just going through the motions. I asked them could I set a goal or a target to hit every week and if I hit that then, we move on to something else. That kind of kept me going a lot I think. It was good to have those there every week to look forward to,” says the Guinness ambassador.

Sean O'Brien Cathal Noonan / INPHO The openside was back at his day job in Carton House this week. Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

“The last time, for instance, in the gym, I probably pushed on a bit - I think it was a little bit more controlled this time, more precise, compared to me being a bit stubborn going ‘I’m able to do this.’ And going in at it rather than taking step-by-step.”

He runs through some quick examples of how he broke his task down to a micro level: recovering the joint’s full range was first up. Once that was completed, his goal was a press-up. Done? Time to try out the shoulder press…

“It was always a building stage, small things like that but they made a big difference to me. I suppose in my mind it was that I was able to do them and get through the work.”

O’Brien calls his original return date “overly cautious”. Mentally, it’s probably a serious boost that he’s not experiencing Deja vu with another April comeback – when the season has only weeks left to run.

He’s well able to fill his down time and do the conditioning work, the hard part was facing the prospect of doing it all over again.

Sean O'Brien Dan Sheridan / INPHO The Tullow Tank's last outing in green was defeat to New Zealand in 2013. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“It did drive me a little bit wrong, knowing that I had to go get [the operation] done the second time.

“After a week or two, I had a lot of good people around me; good family and friends. Soon I just got the head down, had it done and, as I said, we sat down and came up with a plan with the S&C staff in Leinster –  they’ve been really good as well, just making sure I had something to look forward to every week.”

While his steps back to his peak levels may be tentative, O’Brien is confident that the patience will pay off as his shoulder is already feeling as good as new:

“I think everyone forgets,” he argues, “I didn’t have dislocation this time. It was just that the piece didn’t heal and the pins broke off. That is after standing to me.

“I’m probably in a way better place than I have been the last time - It’s completely different his time, not an ounce of pain, nothing. Even after the operation, there was no pain as such compared to the first time.

“I’m completely on a different pitch this time. That is what has given me the confidence in the last few weeks to really go hard, you know, kick on.

“Even though I said the last time I felt good – and I did – I didn’t really know until I got back. I hadn’t done much contact the last time and when I got back it was very sore.

“This time is a different story. I’m feeling very confident with it now.”

O’Brien is back tonight, hunting season ends tomorrow. Whenever he does step back into the big time, his timing will feel probably feel just about perfect.

Sean O'Brien Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Sean O’Brien teamed up with Guinness to announce extraordinary rugby experiences for rugby fans available through the GuinnessPlus App.  

Rugby fans who ‘check-in’ to the pub from now up until the 22nd March will be in with a chance to Follow in the team’s Footsteps by winning an incredible VIP trip for them and two friends to Ireland’s away games against Wales and England in the Guinness Summer Series. 

- Originally published 06:15

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