Amid injury woe, O’Brien looks to sister for inspiration

Amid injury woe, O’Brien looks to sister for inspiration

It would be understandable if Connacht’s Sean O’Brien was feeling sorry for himself this week as he underwent surgery for a shoulder injury suffered within minutes of coming on last weekend against Leinster in his first game in almost a year.

He had not played since December and after making a brief cameo for Cillian Gallagher, he came on for the other lock Joe Maksymiw after 50 minutes for what should have been the start of an extended run in Andy Friend’s side.

But the comeback lasted less than two minutes and with further surgery this week he’s unlikely to see action for another few months in a career punctuated by injury.

He’s had to deal with more than his fair share of injury and other setbacks, but if he wants a refresher in how to deal with adversity, he doesn’t need to look outside his family.

His kid sister Katie is the sort of inspirational sports person who puts the trials and difficulties of others into the ha’penny category.

The 23-year-old has spina bifida but hasn’t allowed that stop her becoming an elite athlete who is hoping to compete in the Tokyo Paralympics next year.

The pararower would have competed in the Beijing Games had she been able to find a partner for her category and now, after winning bronze in the World Championships this summer, the search is on again for a partner.

“They have to be PR2, they have to be maybe a reduced mobility or reduced function of the lower limbs but obviously be able upper body and quite fit as well because rowing is, of course, a sport where you need to have a good endurance base and obviously someone who is willing to put in hours and hours because it’s not something you can just do once a week,” said Katie.

It’s a big commitment,” she added in a recent radio interview. “You just need that willingness to push yourself to the last. It would be amazing to go to Tokyo.”

The O’Briens suffered a devastating blow in 2012 when dad Iain, a stalwart of Galwegians RFC, died from cancer in his later 40s, but mum Aileen has continued the great work.

Katie had to undergo multiple operations and procedures, at one stage it was feared she would lose a leg, but instead spent a year in Sheffield rebuilding it. She has been victorious in Henley and oozes determination and positivity.

Little wonder brother Sean, 25 next month, is in awe of her and unlikely to indulge in self-pity as the former Irish U20 deals with his own difficulties.

“I have never come across anyone as incredible as her,” said Sean.

“I am constantly being reminded that I am the second-tier sportsperson in the family now! All the adversity she has faced in her life and she just takes it in her stride. She is an incredible woman, someone I look up to massively.”

He managed to get over to Austria in preseason to see Katie win and hopes now that she can find a suitably qualified partner to fulfil the Olympic dream.

“She just put on an incredible performance. Just blessed to be over there and get to experience it. We are praying that she will find a partner that she can go forward into the Olympics with. She is right up there with the best in the world. She just needs to find someone,” added Sean.

He was in the Connacht academy when Pat Lam’s men stunned Toulouse in Stade Ernest-Wallon in 2013 but was a key figure when the province enjoyed its greatest day ever three years ago, coming at half-time and help steer the to glory over Leinster in the Pro12 final in Murrayfield.

As a Galway native he knows what the Heineken Champions Cup means to the area and to the players.

“All the groups in the Champions Cup are going to be a tough draw. It is brilliant. Some of my fondest memories, and a lot of the lads, playing rugby come from that time when we are in the Champions Cup and beating Wasps and Toulouse. That is why we play the game. It is incredible.”

His absence, coupled with the injuries to Quinn Roux and Gavin Thornbury, has left Andy Friend short on options in the second row for tomorrow’s clash with Montpellier at the Sportsground but he is boosted by the return of Ulan Dillane to partner promising Sligo native Cillian Gallagher.

Another Sligoman, Stephen Kerins, covers scrum-half on a day when there will also be two from Mayo — Dave Heffernan and Mattie Burke — along with Roscommon pair Denis Buckley and Jack Carty in a Connacht squad for a Heineken Champions Cup clash. Strange times.

Coach Andy Friend, heading into his first Champions Cup squad, called for bravery, resilience and a strong desire to showcase where they are representing. He was, of course, referring to his players but he might just as well have been talking about the O’Briens from Clarinbridge.

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