HE WOULD CERTAINLY have preferred to finish his time with Leinster playing in a winning team but the esteem in which Sean O’Brien is held within the squad meant he did at least bid farewell by lifting the Pro14 trophy.
His team-mates, of course, already knew that O’Brien would have to share bad news with the public the following day.
O’Brien lifted the Pro14 trophy on Saturday. Source: James Crombie/INPHO
And the statement duly arrived yesterday afternoon confirming that not only is O’Brien’s Leinster career at an end but that he may well have played his last game for Ireland.
Ruled out of the World Cup due to the need for hip surgery, it’s not unimaginable that O’Brien returns to action impressively with London Irish and the IRFU’s policy of not picking players based abroad softens. But it is rather unlikely.
If this is the end of O’Brien’s time with Ireland, he will have earned 56 caps – which surely would have been far greater a total but for the injuries that have crippled him in recent years.
O’Brien rolled back the years to be truly outstanding on the 2017 Lions tour but he has missed many of the big days for Leinster and Ireland in the recent past.
He was part of the 2015 Six Nations victory under Joe Schmidt but was denied the opportunity to be part of last year’s Grand Slam, the two wins over the All Blacks, a series success in Australia and more.
He started and shone in Leinster’s Heineken Cup wins in 2011 and 2012, earning the European Player of the Year award after the former. But O’Brien was sidelined for last season’s historic double.
Nonetheless, he will go down as a genuine Leinster legend, having been such an important and influential figure within the squad even when he wasn’t able to feature on the pitch.
O’Brien’s last game was the Champions Cup final defeat to Saracens. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
His team-mates will all wish him well as he looks to recover from his hip surgery and move to London Irish on a three-year deal this summer.
“He’s a ledge, that’s the best way to describe him,” said James Lowe on Saturday after the Pro14 final.
“Man, you know we’ve just got such much depth at Leinster, especially in that jersey, probably he felt it was maybe his time to go [to London Irish].
“And it was such a tough decision. He’s a great man for the club, a great character on and off the field, loves a pint and I can’t wait to have one with him tonight.”
O’Brien will also be counted as a legend of Irish rugby, having gone to two World Cups and won over countless supporters with his abrasive and powerful style of rugby.