Sean O’Brien was in a pub in Carlow when Ireland claimed the Grand Slam.

Just himself, his best pal and a group of about 10 others. Real quiet. Low key. Given the circumstances, it was about as good as it was going to get for a man who, for all the highs, has had to absorb his fair share of blows.

Talk of a possible return from injury had been stitched through the Six Nations as he recovered from a hip injury suffered back in December. Then disaster struck less than two minutes into his comeback, against Scarlets, the week before Twickenham.

This time it was a shoulder.

“Yeah, it was frustrating again because I probably would have backed myself, if I’d played 50 (minutes) against Scarlets, to be involved (against England) if I’d played any way well at all. But I knew after 90 seconds of that game that I was in trouble.

“That was that. I knew then that the following week wasn’t going to be realistic. So, very frustrating, yeah, but you can only be delighted for the way they went about their business. They were always in control.”

He soldiered on for 27 minutes that night in Wales before yielding to the inevitable. The weeks since have been a reprise of those that preceded that brief reappearance with weekly reports claiming he is ‘close’ or ‘not a million miles away’.

O’Brien watched Slam triumph in Carlow pub

O’Brien won’t be back in time for the visit of Zebre to the RDS this week anyway, but he was guardedly optimistic about featuring on Saturday week when Benetton provide the opposition in Ballsbridge.

After that, it’s Scarlets and a European semi-final.

Whatever the return date, he won’t come back “half-cocked”. He’s been too long in the business and had too many injuries now to chance anything.

O’Brien has now missed two of Ireland’s three victorious Six Nations campaign under Joe Schmidt, not to mention the win against New Zealand in Chicago. He knows the show goes on. The absence of contact with the Ireland head coach is an example of that.

“No, I haven’t heard from Joe at all,” he laughed. “Once you’re out you’re out. Every player knows that. The physios are in contact obviously and relaying stuff back to Joe, but that’s the way it’s always been and that’s always been his style.

“You don’t pay much attention to it because when you’re fit you know you could potentially be involved and when you’re not you know you’re out.”

Jamie Heaslip’s forced retirement has only reinforced that sense of perspective.

It is tough, like, obviously. You miss the big days, those big days you’ve worked so hard for and you want to be involved in. When you miss the likes of a Grand Slam year like this year, it does hurt.

“But I always try to look at the positives. Probably a few years ago I didn’t look at much positives. Now I try to. So, next year is a World Cup year and there’s a Six Nations to play, so there’s two massive opportunities to go and win two more trophies, hopefully.”

Ireland’s next assignment is a three-Test tour of Australia in the summer and, though there is the usual talk of resting some key players, O’Brien will be raising his hand as high as possible in order to be picked.

His reasoning is simple and understandable: He needs the game time. He needs to test himself at the highest level again after so long on the sidelines and the next few months should see to that if his body is up to it.

Leinster find themselves zeroing in on the deciding rounds of both the Guinness PRO14 and the Champions Cup — as do Munster — which brings with it the tantalising possibility of an all-Irish European decider.

O’Brien grew up in one of those counties where many people found their allegiances between blue and red slightly blurred back in the day, but his own thoughts on Munster and the possibility of a Spanish rendezvous were crystal clear. “Well, obviously I have a good relationship with a lot of the Munster players.

“I’m not going to be shouting or screaming for them, but I respect what they’re about and the club and the history and all of that. Of course you do. But as long as we get through what we have to get through, that’s the most important thing for us.”

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