THE trophies kept coming Leinster’s way last night as back row star Sean O’Brien was named as the ERC European Player of the Year for 2011.
O’Brien played an instrumental role in Leinster’s heroic fightback from a 22-6 deficit to win the Heineken Cup final over Northampton Saints at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Saturday night as the province won the title for the second time in three seasons.
The award, though, reflects the 24-year-old’s contribution to the Leinster cause in all nine games that took them to Heineken Cup victory at the weekend, earning man of the match awards in three of them. He received his specially struck gold medal from ERC chief executive Derek McGrath yesterday at a ceremony at the RDS as Leinster prepared for this weekend’s Magners League grand final.
“Sean was an inspirational character at the heart of the Leinster pack in their victorious Heineken Cup season and proved himself to be a major force both as a ball carrier and defender,” McGrath said.
“He played across the back row, scored vital tries and picked up three Heineken man of the match awards. His power, athleticism and consistency over the course of the Heineken Cup made him an excellent choice for the ERC European Player of the Year Award.”
Leinster visit Munster at Thomond Park, Limerick, on Saturday evening aiming to become only the fourth side to win a domestic league and European Cup double.
“It’s been a fantastic year for me, and more importantly for Leinster,” O’Brien said. “It’s great to be presented with an award like this, but it has more to do with the team than it has to do with me.
“Hopefully, this is only the start rather than the end of our success in Europe, and of course, we’ve got another trophy to aim at this weekend.”
O’Brien emerged triumphant from a shortlist of five players that also featured Leinster comrades Isa Nacewa and Jamie Heaslip, Northampton prop Soane Tonga’uiha and Sergio Parisse of Stade Francais.
Nacewa was crowned the Irish Rugby Union Players Association’s player of the year and Leinster players’ player of the year earlier this month while five Leinster men were voted onto this season’s Magners League dream team.
O’Brien polled twice as many votes in that selection overall as any of the other 20 players nominated for the three back row positions, but was elected to the blindside flanker’s role.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved