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'There's been a few tears shed' - O'Brien hopes to play for Ireland after move

The 32-year-old will join London Irish after this year’s World Cup.

MANY HAD PRESUMED that Sean O’Brien, a proud son of Tullow in Carlow, would play out his career in the blue jersey of his native Leinster.

It’s not to be the case, however, with London calling. 

O’Brien’s move to London Irish on a three-year contract starting in December was confirmed by the English club early last week.

Ireland’s Sean O'Brien supported by James Ryan O'Brien started for Ireland against Scotland two weekends ago. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Speaking today for the first time since the announcement, O’Brien confirmed that he had offers from several other clubs but is “very happy” with the decision he reached after a tough process. Leaving Leinster will be emotionally difficult.

“There’s been a few tears shed over the last few months thinking about all of this,” said O’Brien.

“When you do make your final decision, it’s a tough place. At the end of it all, you’re just packing your bags and you’re walking out the door and moving to a different club. It hasn’t been easy but it is what it is. You back yourself to go over there and do a job.” 

His Leinster days will be over later this year, but O’Brien hopes his move abroad won’t mean the end of his time as an Ireland player.

Even if recent history with Simon Zebo, Donnacha Ryan and Ian Madigan demonstrates that departing these shores means an end to a player’s time in the green shirt, O’Brien won’t give up hope of representing his country.

“If I’m fit and well and I think I can add value to this group, even after I leave Leinster, I’d hope to be selected,” said O’Brien.

“That’s so long away and it’s probably a decision that the coaches and whoever is in charge at the time will have to make, but there’s always hope there, I think, that regardless of where you are, you’re still in with a shout if you’re playing well enough.”

Andy Farrell will be the Ireland head coach by that stage, having succeeded Joe Schmidt, and it will be fascinating to note if O’Brien has any part to play after departing for the Premiership-bound London Irish.

Sean O'Brien and Andy Farrell O'Brien with future Ireland boss Andy Farrell. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I haven’t spoken to Faz about it,” said O’Brien. “It’s too far away to think about really. I am only back in a couple of weeks here so it’s not a priority for me at the minute.

“I want to focus on playing well back here and staying fit and I’ll think about that stuff in November and December.”

The powerful flanker is keen to ensure he finishes out his current IRFU contract on a high with province and country – Champions Cup, Pro14 and World Cup titles among the honours he will be eyeing up.

Even if 2019 doesn’t go as successfully as he hopes, O’Brien won’t have many regrets.

“When you start out your career in a province and have been there through the bad days and the really good days, it ebbs and flows throughout your whole career,” he said.

“I know that at the end of this season, at the end of my contract when it runs out, that I will have done what I could for Leinster, done it to the best of my ability in those 10 or 12 years. That sits well with me.

“It’s not going to be a case of me leaving with a load of regrets. I’m happy with my contribution so far and hopefully what lies ahead for the next six or seven months.”

His future at London Irish is an exciting one, with director of rugby Declan Kidney being given strong financial backing and other big signings like Paddy Jackson set to be announced. 

Currently nine points clear at the top of the Championship, the Exiles will move into Brentford FC’s new Community Stadium near Kew Bridge in the summer of 2020, with big ambitions.

Sean O'Brien and Declan Kidney Declan Kidney gave O'Brien his Ireland debut. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

O’Brien said he had never imagined himself moving abroad but the offer from London Irish was difficult to ignore.

Asked if he had an option to stay with Leinster, O’Brien said, “it was kind of out of my hands” and stressed the appeal of moving to London Irish.

“Regardless of what options are there, I made the decision based on a lot of stuff for me as well, personally,” said O’Brien.

“New challenge, new environment, new competition. They were all things that excited me, testing myself in a different environment. I have given a lot to Leinster this last 10 to 12 years so it was time to move on and do something else.

“Deccie wants to bring the club to a really competitive place in the Premiership hopefully, develop a lot of the younger guys and create a really good culture there. I think he’s done a great job from what he’s said to me and what I have seen so far in bits and pieces.

“Obviously, it’ll be a different kettle of fish when they get back into the Premiership. He didn’t have to sell it too much to me, they are things I enjoy doing.

“There are a lot of younger lads coming through their academy, there’s a big focus on them for the past couple of seasons. You can see a lot of them are getting their chances in the last few games.

“I have been keeping one eye on them, as such. That’s a major part of it and the brand of rugby they are trying to play is going to be an exciting brand of rugby hopefully. They have some nice classy players.”

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Murray Kinsella

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