Sunday, March 05, 2023

By Daire Walsh


While his inclusion in the match day squad was once again unexpected, happy circumstance ensured Jimmy O’Brien had a nice family moment in the aftermath of last Saturday’s Six Nations clash against Italy in Rome.

Eadestown’s Jimmy O’Brien, training with the Irish Squad in the Aviva on Thursday last Photo: INPHO/Dan Sheridan


Thanks to an injury sustained by Robbie Henshaw, O’Brien was a late addition to the Irish bench for last November’s autumn international encounter with South Africa at the Aviva Stadium. After coming on for his senior test debut in that game, he went on to start subsequent wins over Fiji and Australia in the same venue.


He initially missed out on selection for the opening three rounds of this year’s Championship, only for the withdrawal of Garry Ringrose a day before the Italy game to open the door for O’Brien once more.


Even though it was taking place overseas, his parents John and Caroline had decided in advance of the tournament to book a trip to the Italian capital for the final weekend in February. This decision couldn’t have worked out any better as it allowed them to see their son Jimmy make his Six Nations bow at the Stadio Olimpico.


“I obviously found out late again, similar to my first cap as well. Thankfully my parents had booked a trip anyway. They were going over just regardless. They had booked it once I got in the squad. Any excuse [to go to Rome]. They didn’t mind that I wasn’t playing initially! Thankfully they had booked it and they were over there,” O’Brien explained.


“Got to see them straight after the game. It was class having them there. Obviously when I got called in late, there could have been no one, which would have been a bit disappointing after. It was very cool that they were there.”


Despite only getting eight minutes off the bench as a replacement for Stuart McCloskey, O’Brien was ultimately satisfied to play some part in Ireland’s 34-20 bonus point triumph over Italy – a result that keeps their Grand Slam hopes very much alive heading into the final two rounds of the Six Nations.


“Happy with how it went. Got on the ball once. You’re just trying to talk and bring a bit of energy when you come on. The lads were obviously f***ed towards the end of the game. They were blowing everything, so you’re just trying to get your chat up. Talk to them, try to give them a bit of energy.”


In much the same vein as his provincial colleague and fellow Kildare man Jamie Osborne – who was released from the Irish camp to play with Leinster against Edinburgh l- O’Brien has displayed remarkable versatility in recent times.


Having started his rugby journey as an out-half at schools level with Newbridge College, the Eadestown native has gone on to don every jersey from 11 to 15 in the professional game.


After replacing Stuart McCloskey at inside centre on his test debut against the Springboks, he was subsequently deployed at full-back and left-wing for those aforementioned duels with Fiji and Australia. He has also started 10 games in the outside centre position for Leinster, but found himself on the right-wing for the eastern province’s agonising Champions Cup final defeat to La Rochelle last May.


When he was first starting out, O’Brien was constantly asked if operating in more than one position could be a hindrance to his career. Yet given Leo Cullen and Andy Farrell have seemingly taken such a shine to him over the past 18 months, he is happy to take up any role in either the Leinster or Ireland back lines.


“That’s kind of the way I look at it now. Growing up when I was playing a couple of positions, people asked ‘God, do you think it’s going to work against you?’, but now I think it works for me. I’m the kind of guy now who can play multiple positions.


“I just have to lean into that and that’s my strength. Make sure I know every position now, so if I do get put on the wing, 13 or full-back or whatever, I know the role or I know what I have to do.”


O’Brien was speaking to the media on Thursday from Ireland’s open training session at the Aviva Stadium. A healthy crowd had gathered in the stands of the Lansdowne Road venue to see Andy Farrell’s senior squad linking up with the Ireland U20s – who are themselves in line for a clean sweep of Six Nations glory.


One of the stars of Richie Murphy’s underage outfit in their campaign to date has been Suncroft’s Sam Prendergast. Like O’Brien, Prendergast is a former student of Newbridge College, although the age gap between the two meant they attended the school at different stages in their life.


“He’s been playing unbelievable. I remember asking him, I felt very old when he came into Leinster. I was like ‘were you first year, when I was sixth year?’ and he was like ‘no, I was in sixth class!’ He was in sixth class and I was in sixth year!


“I was like ‘jesus, I’m so much older than you!’ Which felt pretty bad. He’s been training with us and training really well in Leinster, lads are impressed with him. You can see in his performances for the U20s, who have been playing unbelievable. Hopefully he gets in now [to the Leinster first team] in the next couple of years,” O’Brien added.

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