Sean O’Brien says the opportunity to become the first rugby player to return to the professional game after a hip resurfacing operation was part of the motivation driving him on.
A new technique, which meant the surgeon was able to replace the hip joint without cutting through key muscles, saw O’Brien back exercising within two hours of waking up after the operation.
His 10-month rehab was completed when he made his debut for London Irish last month, playing 48 minutes and providing a rare positive for Declan Kidney’s side in the 39-0 loss to Sale.
Reflecting on the surgery, O’Brien says he was amazed by how little pain he felt.
"The one difference between my operation and Andy Murray's was the surgeon. Professor [Damian] Griffin did mine and the way he did it was a bit different,” he told RTÉ 2FM’s Game On.
"For Andy's, they cut through the muscle in the side of your leg to get into your joint that way. Whereas my surgeon takes off the edge of your femur and he actually twists your hip out through your muscle. I had no glute or any muscle whatsoever ripped through during the operation.
When I woke up the next morning, I had no pain. I was up on a bike spinning within two hours of waking up. I couldn't get over it.
“The way he did it definitely helped the way I came back from it because of the lack of scar tissue around that area.”
The operation gave him a 35% better range of movement than he’d had during the previous two years and that absence of pain was repeated when he made his long-awaited return at Sale.
“I was very pleased to get back on the field. It was a long 10 months of rehab and a lot of work went into it. Some people said I was mad doing it but I'd no pain, no soreness, no anything after the game.
“If I was happy with the way the last two years went for me rugby-wise, I probably would have just packed it in but I wasn’t satisfied.
“I’ve nothing to prove to anyone but I wanted it for myself. The other thing was that no-one had ever come back from this injury and played a professional rugby game so I had that in the back of my head as well.
“I wasn’t going to be stupid. If it wasn’t going to work, it wasn’t going to work. But as I got back on the field, I felt more and more confident and the hip became better the more I got into rugby stuff, rather than just running and strength stuff.
“It's been brilliant. It's given me a new lease of life. I can sleep well at night with no pain in my hip and there’s a lot to be said for small wins like that.”
The Tullow-native is currently following Government guidelines around self-isolation with his girlfriend, Mayo and Collingwood footballer Sarah Rowe, at her uncle’s house in Mayo.
O’Brien’s apartment in Dublin, meanwhile, is being occupied by two nurses fighting the coronavirus after he made it available to frontline workers rent-free.
“I was questioning apartment blocks or student accommodation that were half empty. Why haven’t they stepped in and done something?
“I just threw it out there because it might as well be going to some use.
“The two girls who are in it now are very appreciative. Their families have a few difficulties in terms of health so I can’t imagine them going home with the fear of spreading this virus.”