Pain of defeat and big voices the driving force behind 'the new' Sean O'Brien

The under 20 lock has a big name, but is building a big reputation of his own.

Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

IF THERE’S ONE thing Sean O’Brien shares with his illustrious name-sake that has just shunned the advances of the richest club in world rugby, it’s a genial, approachable personality.

This O’Brien is a second row, a crucial cornerstone in Ireland’s Under 20 Six Nations over the coming five games and, he hopes, in the future of Connacht.

For now, he is more than willing to bide his time when it comes to senior honours. He describes the Connacht first team as a goal within three years and his eyes widen with respect rather than expectation of following the examples of Iain Henderson or Eben Etzebeth who instantly made the jump from under 20s to the international Test arena.

The second row is not like other areas of the field, where talent and application are often enough to get by on. Lock is a place for hardy old men and few can afford to be impatient when you have warriors with the longevity of Shaw, Cullen, Thorn or, in O’Brien’s case, Swift in the way.

However, Pat Lam’s insistence on having the western academy train along side the senior pros is paying dividends:

“They’re really good at integrating the younger guys into the squad and helping us out,” says O’Brien. “If you’ve any problem, it’s easy to find help. They look after us well.

“There are a couple of guys, big voices, that are leading it. Craig Clarke is there now as captain and he’s a big voice in training. Guys you look up to, like Michael Swift has been there for years, John Muldoon, people like that: they’re always talking to you in training and they’d help you out if you had a problem.”

Experience with Galwegians and the Connacht Eagles are giving O’Brien the means to gain the experience that is son invaluable to his position, but having a serial winner like Clarke within spitting distance is speeding up that development.

“Personally, as a second row, to see how he operates… he’s a true professional in how he gets stuff done. It’s nice to observe, that’s all I’m really doing for the moment.

image©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

“When you go out to train with these guys you have to really be on the edge. You have to be ready for it and you can’t be slacking off.

“When you’re in that environment when you’re always trying to improve to keep up with them is always going to improve you quicker than training elsewhere.”

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With the Six Nations fast coming down the tracks, O’Brien is well-prepared for the scrutiny that comes with being on the stage of a Friday night prime time slot with the national broadcaster. It’s not the be all and and all, though, merely a stepping stone to his long-term goals.

“It’s the first real level where people are looking at you as somebody who can go into a provincial squad – it’s a serious incentive for me to potentially make it into the Connacht squad. That’s become an opportunity for me. It’s exciting, so hopefully if I can have a good tournament, then in the next few years maybe start developing in.”

As a driving force in Roscrea’s Leinster Schools Cup run in recent years, O’Brien has shown all the credentials to play at the elite level. But his school days are also providing him with added hunger after what he describes as heartbreaking exit at the hands of St Michael’s.

“Things like that, losing, makes coming back and winning that bit more special. The sting won’t go away too quickly from that – that one hurt a lot – but losing makes winning all the better. It drives you on.”

Remember the name.

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Sean Farrell

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