SEÁN O’BRIEN claims he would have taken a quarter of the money on offer from London Irish to see out his days at Leinster.
The flanker will not have the one-club career he wished for. 1 Sean O’Brien would have taken a fraction of the money to stay at Leinster But the ‘Tullow Tank’ is hoping to sign off in style, as he aims to help the province become European champions for the fifth time by beating Saracens on Saturday.
O’Brien will link up with his former Ireland coach Declan Kidney at the Exiles once the Rugby World Cup is over, on a three-year contract said to be worth €420,000 per annum.
It is a bumper package for someone who, because he had turned 32 in February and has had a succession of injury problems, was not offered a new centralised IRFU deal.
That meant had Leinster wished to keep O’Brien, they would have had to fund his salary themselves. HAPPY TO STAY
But the player claims he would have stayed for a fraction of what he has been earning until now.
O’Brien said: “When you’ve poured your whole life into a place, developed it with a group of other guys and done whatever you could in your power to get it to where it is now, it’s very hard to walk away.
“It’s a club that as a young fella, I always dreamed of playing with.
“There is more attached to it than just another club, or another season, or money.
“If I was offered a quarter of the money I’m getting going to London Irish here, I would have stayed.
“I’m not bitter because I get the business decision. While I mightn’t agree with them, I still get them.
“Was there a few things I probably wouldn’t be overly happy with?
“Yes — but that’s probably me being selfish in terms of wanting to finish here. An ideal scenario would be to finish it out here next season and the season after.
“That would have done me but it hasn’t worked out — too bad. Luckily, I’ve a club that wanted me.”
O’Brien will be happy to once again link up with Kidney, who gave the flanker his Ireland debut. NO BITTERNESS
O’Brien added: “I got on very well with Deccie, great actually. He has a funny way with people.
“Everyone knows that. I know that and he knows I know that. We are very honest with each other.”
Whether Kidney can remain true to the assurances given to O’Brien that he will not be flogged in the Premiership — given the club’s substantial investment in him — remains to be seen. But if
money was not the be all and end all for O’Brien, there was a time when he literally could not afford to take a more broad-minded approach.
After his Leaving Cert, the normal route for O’Brien to follow would have seen him join Leinster’s sub-Academy.
However, he revealed this would not have been financially viable as it would have entailed him travelling up and down from Carlow.
Instead, he was fast-tracked to the Academy where he received €332 a month, on-site accommodation in UCD and a small scholarship. He supplemented his income by taking on extra duties.
O’Brien recalled: “I said to Dave McHugh, who was the manager, if there was any work going to let me know.
“So I used to fill the ice baths, clean all the changing rooms and shower rooms.
“It suited perfectly because I would be finished my Academy training, watch them train and wait until they were finished.”
The moonlighting was not something that his peers from south Dublin would typically have been doing and O’Brien admitted that, in those early days, he felt like an outsider.
He added: “One hundred per cent I had a massive chip on my shoulder — no point in saying anything else. I probably disliked all the schools lads from the word go. SMALL PART TO PLAY
“The first Under-18s team that came together was schools and youths. It was all, ‘Where are you from?’. I’d say, ‘Tullow’, and it’d be like, ‘Where’s that?’, in a real patronising way.
“There was no genuine interest in where you were from.
“They were kind of in their own bubble at that stage.
“Once I was embedded in here you gradually win over a few lads. You give lads a few thumps and it changed their mindset fairly quickly!”
The presence of fellow Carlovians, twins Ed and Bryan Byrne, and others from a more rural background at the club now makes O’Brien believe the profile of Leinster players is changing.
He said: “It changed in the province and the work they’re doing outside there.
“The two Byrne boys were in Clongowes but Tadhg Furlong is from New Ross, a few lads there now from Birr as well, Peter Dooley and Michael Milne.
“They are looking outside the Pale. There were probably a load of lads slipping through the net, raw talent that could develop. In the last five or six years they’ve put a massive effort into that.”
ERC European Player of the Year in 2011, when Leinster produced a stirring comeback against Northampton Saints in the final, O’Brien helped the province retain their crown against Ulster the following year.
Once more, they are going for two in a row but O’Brien’s injury-enforced absence last year and his impending departure will provide the flanker — who says he in his best shape since the 2017 Lions Tour — with extra motivation in Newcastle.
On being a spectator in Bilbao 12 months ago as Leinster beat Racing 92, he said: “Leading up to the match I’d a good bit to do off the field for them, in terms of going through the breakdown and stuff, but it was very frustrating not to be involved.
“I didn’t really join in the celebrations and neither did the other lads in the suits — well, a couple of them might have! — but the lads, they’re after winning it.“They’re after doing the hard work.“We had probably a small part to play but on the day, they’ve won the game, they’ve battled it out.“It’s their time. That’s the way I’d look at it.”Standing in the way of a celebration which he can join in guilt-free are Saracens — and O’Brien is an admirer.The back-row forward added: “Where do you start with them? The quality of the players, their culture and the way they go about their business week in, week out.“They have big personalities who are team players, want the club to succeed and are competitive to do anything to achieve that.“We know ourselves from last year how hard it is to go through a Champions Cup unbeaten and they’re the only ones to do it this year. They’re hard stopped.”
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