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Wednesday 14 November 2018

O'Brien: I have to do my thing

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: Seán O’Brien. Photo: Sportsfile
OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: Seán O’Brien. Photo: Sportsfile

Tadhg Furlong never wastes a chance to take a comical shot at his brethren.

The border counties don't just exist up north, you know.

The line between Wexford and Carlow is one that is often crossed when it comes to the friendly fire between the Ireland tight-head and the returning Seán O'Brien, the one man who led the way for Leinster's Youth or Club players not that long ago.

"Seánie adds a massive amount to the group, not just through experience, but also through his leadership, adding a constant voice.

"It's great to see him back out there and as vocal as ever through his 'high-pitched voice'," came the comical element from Furlong.

"That's because the props are so feckin' lazy, you have to roar," responded O'Brien, in a subsequent interview.

It just goes to show there is still room for light-hearted moments in what is an intense, super-serious environment.

Earlier in the week, scrum coach Greg Feek spoke about how everyone knows O'Brien is ready to have a big game when you hear him before you see him.

It sounded like Feek was still waiting for the veteran to find his voice.

"Yeah, that's definitely a factor," said O'Brien, always a direct, honest interviewee.

"I'd say as you feel you're getting back to yourself, you're more vocal.

DYNAMIC DUO: Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale and Jordan Larmour during squad training at Carton House, Maynooth yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
DYNAMIC DUO: Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale and Jordan Larmour during squad training at Carton House, Maynooth yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

"After just getting back to Leinster for a few games, then coming in here, you're getting your job sorted, first and foremost, making sure I was doing all the basics really well.

"And then you can start to give voice around different things, if needs be.

"I've never come back in and spoken for the sake of it.

"I didn't see a point in doing it this time. It was fit-in-first, get up to speed with what we're trying to do.

"Then, once I had my own stuff nailed down, I could start giving messages, if needs be."

It hasn't been that way for nearly a year now for Ireland, O'Brien last pulling on the green shirt against Argentina late into last November.

Ruin

Last season, the flanker had been compromised by playing just two matches, one month apart, for Leinster ahead of the international window opening.

From there, the season unravelled as injury intervened to ruin all his hopes and dreams.

He had to stand by and applaud as Ireland completed the Grand Slam and Leinster carved it up for a PRO14 League and Champions Cup double.

This season, he has been able to build up his game, making those incremental improvements from five matches to find some sort of rhythm.

"I had to be very patient," he said.

"The last two weeks, I've been feeling really good, fit and recovering a lot better after hard sessions.

"The body is not as stiff and as sore. That match fitness is there now."

'The Tullow Tank' has gotten back up to speed by listening to his body and those who matter around him.

"I can't expect myself to be at that level after a year out.

"Things move on, teams get better, you have to get back to a place where you can compete at training first and foremost.

"Those environments are so competitive," he added.

"I've always said I need to bide my time, tick all the boxes before I can get back to a place where I can perform my best.

"There is quality in every position, but particularly the back-row. I get to wear the jersey this week, so I need to do it justice and make sure I do my thing."

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt does not make a habit out of highlighting one individual over the collective.

He usually prefers to evaluate everyone sparingly rather than one man extensively.

Exception

The coach made an exception in Carton House.

"He's still on that upward tangent, that's what I'm hoping," cautioned the coach.

"In my experience of coaching him for eight and-a-half years that does take a couple of games to get up and running.

"I'd be really hopeful that he's going to take another step and, just watching him train, he's bustling about the place,

"He just looks like he's taking up a bit of space on the pitch and that's exactly the sort of Seán O'Brien that you want to see."

Schmidt went on to comment on how the openside's stubborn nature is part of his mindset to keep on trucking when he has spent so much time in the pit stop.

"I'm stubborn in terms of I know what I want to achieve in my career," said O'Brien.

"Obviously, going through what I've done in the last year, I suppose, I've assessed where I am and where I want to be - starting from now and in the future.

"I've set myself little goals and I don't want to take a step back from that.

"I want to keep building nicely," stated the 2017 British & Irish Lions test starter.

"That's the stubborn part, where I won't give in to it. I want to get back to being one of the best players."

Schmidt's trust in O'Brien is embedded from their working relationship at Leinster and Ireland.

The rise of Dan Leavy and Josh van der Flier and the recent consistency of Jordi Murphy have removed any guarantees.

It has always been that way, anyway, with Schmidt. "Yeah, Joe knows me a long time now. I suppose that trust factor is there," continued O'Brien. "I have to show him and the rest of the coaches that I'm back to that level again.

"I suppose it's about me proving to them that I still have it at this level, am back fully fit and ready to rock.

"I've had a great week's training, it's been very sharp.

"I'm in a good place now and it's just about going out and performing."

He needs to do it for himself and for Ireland.

Ireland: J Larmour; K Earls, R Henshaw, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, K Marmion; C Healy, R Best (capt), T Furlong, I Henderson, J Ryan, P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, CJ Stander. Replacements: S Cronin, J McGrath, A Porter, D Toner, D Leavy; L McGrath, J Carbery, A Conway.

Argentina: E Boffelli; B Delguy, M Orlando, J de la Fuente, R Moyano; N Sanchez, T Cubelli; S Garcia-Botta, A Creevy, S Medrano, M Alemanno, T Lavanini, P Matera (capt), G Petti, J Ortega-Desio. Replacements: J Montoya, JP Zeiss, L Sordoni, R Bruni, T Lezana; G Bertranou, J Diaz-Bonilla, M Moroni.

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