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'Nobody has pushed him out the door': Irish address O'Brien exit

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Trending on RugbyPass

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London Irish have confirmed that the salary cap cuts across the Gallagher Premiership weren’t to blame for the announcement last Friday that Sean O’Brien is to retire from playing at the age of 35. Club coach Declan Kidney told RugbyPass that the veteran back-rower could have played on and was wanted for the 2022/23 season. 

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However, the famed Ireland and Lions player opted to call its quits after three years at London Irish and his post-retirement plans to stay in the game in some capacity are now eagerly awaited. Having voted to cut the salary cap from £6.4million to £5m and also cut the number of marquee players allowed outside that budget from two to one, clubs in England are experiencing difficulties in balancing the books as best they can ahead of the upcoming season. 

Having arrived in London following a star-studded career with Leinster, the 61 cap O’Brien (56 with Ireland and five for the Lions) would have been an expensive outlay for the Irish when he agreed to join them in 2019. 

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Mike Brown | Rugby Roots
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Despite only playing 25 matches so far in his three years at the club due to some injuries, Irish wanted to entertain O’Brien for a fourth season in the Premiership but the coveted flanker instead decided to call time on his playing career. “Most players will tell you, you know when you know,” said Kidney to RugbyPass about the decision by O’Brien to call it quits.  

“I wouldn’t like to say that it was a physical influence or a mental one or anything else like that, it’s just sometimes you know when you know and he is playing at a very high level. Some people will play on right to the end and some people will go early, but one thing I do know about retiring is you do actually know when you know and it’s right for Sean now to do that. 

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“Nobody has pushed him out the door. We’d love to have him around again next year and he could have played on. But when it is right to retire it is right, so you don’t try and persuade a guy to stay on or dissuade a guy to stay on with a track record like Sean’s. With other players, you might do but in Sean’s case he is certainly due the respect of when he knows he knows and that is why he has called it.” 

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What will the O’Brien legacy be at London Irish? “Some of it will be intangible but I don’t think there is a young player within the place that wouldn’t have a positive word to say about the influence he has had on their careers and the way he has thrown himself into helping them understand the standards that are needed to move up the ladder in terms of their performance. 

“Sean has his own inimitable way to get his message across to lads. It isn’t always TLC but he does look after the players and he has been brilliant for the younger players in terms of driving the standards on the pitch. With every player, he has been good and in putting together the game plans he has had an influence. 

“So he has had a very broad spectrum across the whole club and off the pitch then too, his interaction with people, Sean helps out with the amateur side of the club and he certainly puts himself about in the same way as you have seen him playing the matches. That is his life then too, he is very generous in the way he shares it.”

O’Brien said in his retirement statement that he would “make an announcement with regards to the next stage of my career very soon”. “He has done a bit of coaching already and he dipped his toe in the water in a lot of different aspects of in and around what is an industry in the game now,” continued Kidney. 

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“He will find his niche in the area that he enjoys and he said that in his statement, that he is taking a look at the different aspects and he will make a decision shortly enough as to where he goes. But thankfully he will stay in the game. 

“It’s been a privilege and a pleasure to work with Sean over the years and away from rugby we have had some good moments as well too and over the journey of a rugby career that is all you can ever ask for really, good times on and off the pitch,” concluded Kidney, who was the coach that gave O’Brien his Ireland test debut in November 2009. 

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