The Tullow flanker was at the centre of feverish speculation regarding his future at the turn of the year when, along with Jamie Heaslip, he was targeted by a number of Top 14 sides among whom Toulon led the way.
In the end, both players signed on the dotted line to keep them under IRFU control and the auspices of the Leinster branch, but O’Brien pointed out that the perception of him as a ‘farm boy’ who would never leave home are inaccurate.
He skipped around the question of how close he actually came to upping sticks but at one point there was great store placed in reports that he was selling his car. “I’m still selling it,” he joked, “if you know anyone who’s wants it.”
He spoke yesterday, as Heaslip did two weeks ago, about the attractions of a different language, lifestyle and the culture in general, even if he was less complimentary about the bish-bosh style of rugby that dominates the richest league in the world.
“It wouldn’t bother me to go,” he said yesterday whilst promoting the Guinness Plus mobile app in Dublin.
“Like, everyone thinks there is no hope of me ever going anywhere. No, that is not the case, I manage myself, I make my own decisions.
“Certainly at some stage in my career — and I’ve said it before — I want to experience something different and it’s just now isn’t the right time for that. The player welfare programme we’ve set up here was a big factor as well.
“Knowing Toulon, they want to have eight or nine back rows for next season, to keep rotating every week. But that mightn’t be the case when you get over there,” he added, laughing. “They could just be telling you that.”
And as for the rugby itself?
“It’s a ‘man-up-a-thon’ nearly every week. It’s ‘I’ve got a bigger pack than you and we’re going to roll over you’. There’s not too much invention, maybe.
“The type of rugby we’re playing here I really like and that obviously had an effect on the decision I made.”
O’Brien probably had more reason than Heaslip to look on at the gruelling nature of the Top 14 with an alarm bell ringing given he has been far more susceptible to injury than his team-mate with club and country.
Then again, who hasn’t?
Still, it may be no coincidence that his decision to stay at home was taken at the onset of his lengthiest injury absence yet, one occasioned by the dislocated shoulder he suffered playing against Ulster at the RDS in late December.
What seemed insignificant at the time has mushroomed into a problem that required more invasive surgery than the keyhole procedure initially envisaged and by a subsequent blood infection that triggered a significant weight loss.
The most recent rehab report is more positive.
He is now a week or two ahead of where he thought he was after all the setbacks but the bottom line now is that we won’t see him marauding around the park again until the 2014/15 season.
“There’s no point in trying to rush back now before the end of the year or the summer tour [to Argentina].
“It’s probably a thing of starting a pre-season in a week or two, getting in good condition and getting ready for next year.
“I thought we’d be playing catch-up for the rest of the year but [Leinster strength and conditioning coach] Stephen Smith has been doing great work. I’ve been in with him every day since I got the all-clear to go. I’m gradually getting back into weights.”