Sean O’Brien says it would be a ‘huge honour’ to be named Ireland captain.
Joe Schmidt is set to name his extended Six Nations squad this week, with the Leinster backrow one of a handful of players in the mix to replace the retired Paul O’Connell.
The Tullow native has worn the armband at provincial level on one off occasions and skippered Ireland just once in the World Cup warm up over Scotland last August.
But the 28-year-old is seen as one of the players best suited for the role, alongside Jamie Heaslip, Rory Best, Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray.
“It would be something you would embrace, a huge honour if you were asked to do it, but I have not actually thought that much about it,” O’Brien admitted.
“Nothing changes. I have always said that. The captain is just a word beside your name on a day. You just have to keep doing what you are doing. I don’t see it as a burden.”
It may only be a word, but there is a lot more to a captain than an extra seven letters, as O’Brien concedes.
“The fuss is there because you want someone who is going to be one of the leading players on and off the field, who can influence things by what he does, what he stands for, how he leads the group, drive a key message during the week, keeping his standards to be the best he can be,” he said.
“When you look at previous captains like Paulie [O’Connell], Brian [O’Driscoll], that was what they did. They were the ultimate professionals.
“And whatever they said they backed it up by doing the business on the field.”
O’Brien is optimistic about the quality that is available to Schmidt as Ireland aim for an historic third Six Nations success in a row, despite the recent cloud hanging over the Irish provinces.
A youthful Leinster and a revitalised Munster lifted some of the gloom with wins over the weekend, and though they came too late to make a difference to this season’s European competition, there was a well timed burst of confidence in their wake.
As champions, Ireland will expect to be targeted once more, but can they front up despite the loss of key players like O’Connell, Tommy Bowe, Peter O’Mahony and Iain Henderson?
“I think every year it gets tougher, especially when you’re defending your title and you lose a few lads,” he said.
“Henderson is out and you lose Paulie, they’re two massive players on their own, but you have other lads to step up. That’s the exciting part about it. There’s other lads trying to fill in their roles, they’re eager and bring a lot of energy to the whole thing, once we keep driving standards and making sure that we’re in the right place.”
Dismissing the idea of a crisis in the Irish game, O’Brien highlighted the performances of Leinster flanker Josh van der Flier, while there were a handful of other academy products putting their hand up in last Saturday’s victory.
“I think that it’s an exciting time for us again,” O’Brien said. “With the talent that is in the provinces now, all the younger lads coming through, competition is still going to be very, very high. I wouldn’t be thinking anything negative, we’re looking forward to the challenge that is ahead of us. I think we’ll have a very, very strong squad this year, and a hugely talented and exciting squad.
“They’re probably going to be better in the long run [than the current players],” O’Brien added of the young Leinster stars who impressed on Saturday at the RDS. You look at Ross [Molony], the game he played and the maturity he showed. It’s an exciting time, there is a lot of really good young lads coming through, and I think we’ll soon see what they’re all made of.”
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