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.
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.
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.