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Ireland U20s captain O'Brien follows in the footsteps of BOD and Ringrose

The UCD clubman is an exciting prospect for the future.

IF TOMMY O’BRIEN was looking for role models when he was coming through the ranks of Blackrock College, he didn’t have to gaze too far beyond the walls of the Dublin school.

There he would have found pictures of two of Blackrock’s former outside centres, Brian O’Driscoll and Garry Ringrose, both of whom have gone on to greater heights.

Tommy O'Brien O'Brien will lead the Ireland U20s this year. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Back for his second year with the U20s and this time as captain, the exciting O’Brien isn’t reading too much into the previous history of some of Blackrock’s 13s.

“It’s a tough line to follow,” says the UCD clubman, “obviously BOD and Garry recently. Obviously, I’m aspiring to be like those guys but I’m a long way off the finished article at the moment.

“Garry was three years ahead of me in school. I was in third year when he was in sixth year and he had that great Cup season.

“His brother is in my year so I’m actually good friends with him, so I’d know Garry quite well at this stage. His brother Jack is in second year in college as well.”

O’Brien is already part of Leinster’s academy and showed his promise for the Ireland U20s last season, playing on the wing as well as at centre.

No matter where he is positioned, O’Brien is a clever footballer, a fine athlete and a dogged defender – as evidenced by his stunning try-saving tackle against France during last year’s Six Nations.

Tommy O'Brien on his way to scoring a try O'Brien in UCD colours. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Those attributes were among the reasons that O’Brien’s team-mates unanimously voted him to be their captain this year.

Head coach Noel McNamara followed the players’ recommendation and now O’Brien is excited to lead Ireland into the upcoming Six Nations, which they start away to France in Toulouse next weekend.

“I’d know some of the guys from playing U20s last year, Irish U18s as well, so I think I just had a good relationship with everyone and I’m quite happy being vocal on the pitch and don’t mind speaking up,” says O’Brien. “Noel asked me and I was delighted to say yes.

“He just said I’m well respected by the staff and also the players so, yeah, when you have the respect of the players… you can’t really lead if you don’t have anyone’s respect so once he told me I had everyone’s support, I’d said I’d be delighted and honoured to lead them.”

While O’Brien excelled in last year’s Six Nations, he was unlucky to miss the World Rugby U20 Championship with a hamstring injury.

Having also suffered a broken leg in his final year of school at Blackrock, O’Brien has already tasted his fair share of the realities of high-level rugby.

Tommy O’Brien O'Brien will be at 13 for the U20s. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

But now fit and motivated to impress for Ireland, he should lead by example from outside centre, where he is set to play for McNamara’s side this season.

“A lot of talk about playing 13 is the defensive aspect of it and how it’s one of the tougher positions,” says O’Brien. “In camps and such, I’m building connections with the guys inside and outside of you.

“Just continually work on that and building those connections, making reads at 13 and then just talking it up. At 13 you also get a little bit more involved in the game than on the wing, so I just want to add that aspect and have as many positive impacts as I can on the game.”

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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Murray Kinsella

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