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O'Brien: 'Nothing's set in stone, I'm open to every conversation'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

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Sean O’Brien has claimed he still hasn’t made a concrete decision on what his future will be once he retires from playing after this Saturday’s final Gallagher Premiership appearance for London Irish. It was April 8 when the two-tour Lions back-rower took to social media to confirm it would soon be all over for him from a playing perspective.

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This sparked plenty of speculation about what the 35-year-old might do next and he was quickly linked with a return to Leinster in a coaching capacity given that they are losing backs coach Felipe Contepomi to Argentina while contact skills coach Denis Leamy has been touted as a potential Munster recruit. 

O’Brien, though, didn’t add any fuel to this particular fire on Thursday afternoon when he fronted a media briefing ahead of what will be his 29th and last appearance for London Irish this weekend following a three-year stint at the Exiles. 

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The back-rower is held in high esteem in Ireland for his trophy-winning exploits for both his country and with Leinster, but he didn’t dismiss the idea of staying on in London when asked for an update on what his next move will be. “I have a bit of a firm idea at the minute on how I going to transition out of playing but I can’t say too much at the minute.

“There are a few things on the table over here, I have a few other options outside of rugby back in Ireland, so there are a few things and a few bits and pieces that I need to chat through again over the next couple of weeks and kind of set it up in stone before anything is announced. I’ll look forward to doing that when the time is right.”

So you are open to the possibility of staying in London? “Yeah, it’s something I wanted to do and if things go the right way that could happen but if not, I always like to have kind of a backup plan so we’ll see how that all pans out over the next week or so.

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“That is what I am trying to fish out at the minute,” he added when asked if remaining at London Irish was an option. “There is a bit going on here, they are trying to figure out maybe what I could possibly do but you know I don’t know, that is probably not a question for me to answer, it’s probably a question for them to answer down the line. But again, there are options that we are chatting through and hopefully sooner rather than later, I will know exactly what I am doing.”

Your rugby options, are they in the UK only? “They are not confined to the UK, there are conversations going on both here and at home. Even my own club in Tullow and bits and pieces have asked questions. I know that is a different level but I’d love to get back involved with them if I did move home.

“But yeah, I am open to every conversation at the minute. As I said, there have been a lot of conversations and I suppose I will have to make decisions very soon on what I want to do and where I want to go and how best it suits me from a learning perspective and my development, whether it be coaching or whether it be in business. There is nothing set in stone yet but I’m definitely going to make a decision in the next week or so.”

Aside from playing for London Irish, O’Brien has been coaching the defence once a week at Rosslyn Park, the London-based National 1 club that finished third in their league behind Sale and champions Caldy who won promotion to the Championship next season. That has been an eye-opening experience. 

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“It’s a funny the mix of people, a certain amount of lads that really want to do well and others who are happy with Saturday rugby and do not want to go Championship, so how do you deal with those guts in training sessions because some weeks they are red hot and some weeks you know they are not quite on it or mightn’t be up for the game as much? 

“That was a tricky balance. Luckily I was only doing defence, so that was up to the head coach the DoR to try and deal with more so than me. Coaching is frustrating as well if everyone is not buying into what you are trying to push them towards and develop them on, but it is very rewarding.

“The rewards are super when you put a plan in place and they go and execute it really well. It could be a winning turnover, it could be a heavy set of D to win the game. I got my kick out of watching back some of the clips that we worked on during the year.”

As regards the emotions of his impending playing farewell at Irish, O’Brien added: “It’s excitement. When you know your time is coming to an end you want to enjoy and soak up the atmosphere and the last few weeks that you have around the boys. That is what I am feeling at the minute, just relishing the last few days and enjoying the weekend.”

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