O’Brien aims to lighten load of senior boys

O’Brien aims to lighten load of senior boys
Leinster’s Jimmy O’Brien credits a stint with Ireland sevens as a great learning experience before returning to Dublin full-time and taking his first steps with Leo Cullen’s big boys.Credit: Laszlo Geczo.

Leinster may have a smooth running conveyor belt of talent coming through but many of those plotting a course along it find that there are bumpy patches and detours along the way.

Jimmy O’Brien was a member of the Ireland U20 squad that stunned the Baby Blacks at the Junior World Cup three years ago and made it all the way to the final. The road from there to here hasn’t been completely straight or true.

A couple of minor injuries acted as brakes on his progress for a time there and the versatile back took a detour via the ranks of the Ireland sevens for another block of time before returning to base in Dublin full-time and taking his first steps with Leo Cullen’s big boys.

The sevens chapter proved to be a blessing.

“I got it in the first-year academy, I wasn’t really involved with the senior side, I’d trained with them a couple of times. They came to me and offered me the chance to go to Dubai and play some (sevens) rugby so that was unbelievable.

“I really enjoyed it, you get set in there. They have their goals and you want to help them get them. I was with them first and second year academy.

"In my years we didn’t get into the (core World) series. I went to Hong Kong and we lost that, I went to the Sevens World Cup and really enjoyed it.”

O’Brien was once found to be the fastest man at Leinster.

That speed was an obvious advantage on the sevens circuit but he credits the game with improving so many other aspects of his game on both sides of the ball.

He rocked up as a 10 or 12 more accustomed to passing the ball on. Then he had to take on opponents one-on-one and defend against them in the same mano-a-mano fashion. His confidence soared for the experience.

It felt appropriate that he should have found himself chatting about the journey so far this very week as he turns 23 today and this presence on the media radar indicates that he will be one of those tyros asked to lighten the load on the senior men and take on Glasgow in the PRO14 on Saturday.

Leinster have made good use of the next generation so far.

Ronan Kelleher has been outstanding at hooker and scoring tries for fun. Max Deegan, Caelan Doris, and Josh Murphy are among the others to have graduated from the bread and butter of league fare to the creme de la creme of Champions Cup action this past fortnight.

O’Brien hasn’t been shocked at the ease with which they slotted in to difficult fixtures against Benetton and Lyon.

You’ve seen that in the last three, four years the young lads coming up have been unbelievable, even those starting (against Lyon) at the weekend. There were very young lads in there who were leaders in the group and stuff like that.

“So they do trust young lads here and it is kinda expected of you here: you are not just going to be babysat up there, you have to be a big player in the team when you are in it.”

O’Brien admits that there is a certain impatience to join his peers in the Champions Cup club. He has played five times in the PRO14 thus far, 12 in all since his debut last season. Figuring out where to play him may be the next priority.

This is a player who can do a job at out-half, centre and full-back. Isa Nacewa helped nurture him along during his last few years at the club and Rob Kearney has helped to school him in the nuts and bolts of work at 15.

“I don’t really have a favourite, 13 or 15 are the ones I’m mainly playing at the moment, but I’ve played everywhere in school, for Leinster and the ‘A’ team. A bit at 10, I came on on the wing a couple of times last year. At the moment 13 or 15, I really enjoy them.”

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