Missing Man

'I'm going to get very greedy next year': World Cup and everything in between the target for Sean O'Brien

The back row is having to busy himself with rehab and racing before approaching a comeback in the new season.

JOINING THE CELEBRATIONS in a suit, safely out of target range for popping Champagne and with no need of a post-match change or ice-pack is not the role Sean O’Brien would have pictured for himself in the glorious end to Leinster’s season.

Stuart Lancaster, Jonathan Sexton and Sean O'Brien celebrate after the gameO'Brien joins the celebrations in Bilbao.Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

On Saturday, O'Brien's provincial team-mates capped a historic Champions Cup and Pro14 double. 14 of them can lay claim to a treble too, after their role in securing the Grand Slam with victory in Twickenham. Johnny Sexton and James Ryan haven't even a defeat between them. The perfect season.

"'The perfect season', and I'm not involved in it," O'Brien tells The42 with a smiling wince.

It would take a short memory to agree with the 31-year-old on that front. The openside came into the season on the back of a starring role with the Lions in New Zealand. He looked in fine fettle again when it came time to help Ireland beat South Africa and Argentina. And his power was put to good use through two pivotal dogfights against Exeter Chiefs in the Champions Cup.

Sean O'Brien dejected after his side conceded a second try Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Unfortunately, O'Brien's season was derailed after an hour against the former English champions in the Aviva Stadium. Winter hip surgery kept him out of the Six Nations and two problematic comeback attempts ended with an appointment for shoulder surgery.

"I've had a very frustrating year, the lads won every competition they could have won," adds O'Brien, "look, that's life I suppose."

With that philosophical approach in hand, O'Brien refuses to dwell on the defining moments he has missed out on this season. There are prizes even bigger than a Grand Slam on the horizon for Ireland to chase, and that is where O'Brien has set his cross-hairs; a World Cup, defending titles and a chance to measure up against the All Blacks again in November.

"You get those bad days. Hopefully I'll have a lot of good days ahead. Next year being a World Cup year there'll be a lot of excitement. We'll have some great matches next November and in the Six Nations, then leading into the World Cup.

There's so much still to be won, that's the way I'm looking at it. I'm going to get very greedy next year trying to win everything."

It's all too easy to get a touch gloomy about the future durability of a player as abrasive as O'Brien, and the wrong side of 30, requiring surgery on two major joints. However, there are possible positives too.

The Carlow man is on track to take a full part in Leinster's pre-season training this summer. If he returns to action September then his body will have been through just 67 minutes of competitive rugby in the space of nine or 10 months. That may not quite be the sort of sabbatical that Richie McCaw took in 2013, but being out of the firing line could have its long-term benefits.

Sean O'Brien brings water onto the pitchO'Brien carrying water for Tullow RFC in April's Towns Cup final.Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

"In a way I’m glad I've the chance now to get it right," O'Brien wrote on Instagram about his shoulder in April. In an attritional game, the chance to wind himself up and arrive as a cavalry of sorts for club and country is plenty to pin hope on.

"Once I knew what the problem was and that it was fixable, I was happy. It's not something that will effect me again down the line, hopefully. It's an opportunity to come back bigger and stronger and come back better than ever.

"There's always an opportunity when you have an injury like that. It's something I was trying to rehab for a while and it wasn't really working, trying to come back and play.

"It was messing with my head a bit, so when I did have surgery I was just glad it was done and dusted and it was fixed, then I can move on.

"Get into pre-season now and get really fit and strong at the start of the season and hopefully get an injury-free year."

In the meantime, O'Brien isn't likely to find himself short of things to do while his peers are away on tour in Australia.

In a sport that promises little longevity and an abundance of careers cruelly cut short, it's imperative that rugby players make efforts to put building blocks in place for their post-rugby lives. Between the farm, the odd business venture and his passion for Carlow sport, O'Brien seems naturally adept at poking fingers in a variety of pies.

Among O'Brien's interests off the field is on the paddock. He is speaking with The42 not just as an ambassador for Horse Racing Ireland, but as a racehorse owner.

MT2_0109Sean O’Brien, has joined the Capel Street Syndicate to be part of the Classic winning team of Jessica Harrington.Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Carlow's Championship win over Kildare and Leinster's victory over Scarlets were not the only reasons for O'Brien to celebrate over the past week. On Thursday, Rovetta - a four-year-old filly he part-owns through the Capel Street Syndicate - finished fourth in Tipperary on its first outing under new ownership.

Being part of a syndicate means the cost and risk of owning a horse is spread between five and 20 people, something O'Brien points out can make the venture more accessible to a range of income levels.

"People don't understand syndicates enough. It's a real affordable way of getting involved if you're into racing, into horses. It's easy on your pocket, it's great fun. Especially when you've a number of people involved - the more the merrier - with a syndicate, it doesn't matter what level you want to get in on with a horse. It's perfect for whatever level you want to come in at, it's easily done."

Rovetta, the third horse O'Brien has been connected with after the eponymous Tullow Tank and Koola Boola, is trained by Jessica Harrington. So in a yard with a fresh 1,000 Guineas winner and last year's Cheltenham Gold Cup-winner, there is little temptation for O'Brien to get antsy about taking a back-seat role in this particular sport.

It's a great distraction, it's more of a hobby for me. That's the enjoyable part for me, (that) it gets you away from your main job. The lads I'm involved with like that as well, going down to the races, getting away from the real world for a day or two.

"I'm very relaxed about the whole thing. I don't know enough about training a horse or any of that to be forward about saying different things (to Harrington).

"Trust the trainer, trust she's doing the job for you and know what's best for everyone involved in the syndicate and the horse.

"That makes our job easy, we can just enjoy the days out and the craic. She's had a good few winners in the last few weeks. It's a good place to have a horse at the minute. that yard is in great form, she has a good team down there. Anytime you go down to the yard there's a good buzz around he place, so she's flying."

There's been a special mood around the Leinster training yard of late too, and O'Brien will be chomping at the bit to get back in his stride ahead of a big 2019.

The Capel Street Syndicate are leasing Rovetta and aim to take in some of the Irish summer racing festivals. Visit to find out more information on the opportunities of racehorse ownership and syndication.

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