Opportunities are like buses in Connacht. There is always another one around the corner.
Pat Lam’s willingness to place his faith in youth is implicit, but it is an approach dictated by necessity as much as invention, given the slim enough resources out west and an injury list that has ballooned like a swollen knee this season. So, for every casualty there is a beneficiary and Seán O’Brien has taken advantage of the attrition rate this campaign to good effect.
A debut in Siberia against Enisei last November got him started and he has since racked up the Guinness Pro 12 appearances in Lam’s back row.
And you have to say he deserves it. Rewind to last season and he was pulling his hair out with a navicular bone injury in his foot that caused him to miss the 2014 Junior World Cup and, worse, kindled suggestions that he may well have to retire.
“It was very tough for me. For me, I have always seen myself as wanting to go on and be a rugby player and to be thinking that I wasn’t going to be able to do that was obviously very disappointing, but you keep your head down and plough through and hope it works out for you.”
It did, eventually.
He still doesn’t know how the fracture occurred, but he first felt it during the U20s Six Nations campaign in 2014 when he played through the pain before a scan revealed the extent of the damage and the need for an operation, which he had in Galway.
The navicular is a notoriously difficult bone to heal due to the lack of blood flow that reaches the area and it was only when he sought another opinion from a specialist in London that another path towards full fitness was navigated.
That still left him playing catch-up.
It’s the worst injury he has had, but not the oddest. That honour goes to the time he was playing the Munster U20s at the Sportsground and did himself serious damage by trying to hop on to the greyhound track to retrieve a ball and resume play quickly.
That was a jape that cost him a couple of months, but he can laugh at that stuff now as he looks to Saturday’s meeting with a Munster back row that features CJ Stander and his old U20s colleague Jack O’Donoghue.
Neither are bad barometers for where he finds himself now.
“You have to be ambitious with yourself and think that you can go out and dominate these guys,” he said.
“It’s a massive test for me. These are really good players and I am just hoping I can hold my own against them.”
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