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20th Jul 2023

Jimmy O’Brien on Johnny Sexton ban and Andrew Conway training with the squad

Patrick McCarry

Jimmy O'Brien

“I’ve not let myself [think about France]. I’m waiting until the squad is picked.”

It is July 20th but we are almost at the part of Ireland’s World Cup preparations when it is time to start asking about the opposition. At present, though, Jimmy O’Brien says the squad are finding time to check out another World Cup.

The squad was doing some speed and strength training at the IRFU High Performance Centre, today, but found time to tune into Ireland women’s football side as they took on Australia in their World Cup opener. Most of the squad are heading for home when the media arrive on the scene, yet O’Brien, Caelan Doris, Rob Herring, Jacob Stockdale, Ryan Baird, Cian Prendergast, Dan Sheehan and Robbie Henshaw are on press duty.

The next time an Ireland player will speak with the media, it will be the week of a Test match. After their final training block, on Friday, the players will have a week off [yet with a personalised training plan to follow] before they return to get ready for the opening game of 2023/24, a World Cup warm-up against Italy.

Sitting down with RTÉ, BBC and The42 for a chat with Jimmy O’Brien, we found the Leinster winger in fine form. He addressed the Johnny Sexton ban, World Cup memories and revealed Munster and Ireland winger Andrew Conway had been in training with the senior squad.

Jimmy O'BrienJimmy O’Brien speaks to the media during an Ireland rugby media conference in the IRFU High Performance Centre at the Sport Ireland Campus. (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)

Jimmy O’Brien on World Cup preparations

Here is that full Q&A we had with Jimmy O’Brien:

How’s training going?

It’s been good. Tough, but enjoyable. It’s been a bit of craic, and then obviously now we’re getting more towards games and our first game in two weeks, so we’re concentrating on that.

How’s the breakdown of blocks going? Breaks things up?

It’s been nice breaking it up. It can be pretty intense, long days, so it’s nice to go off and train by yourself, or there’s a few lads around and you’d go training with them. It’s more chilled but you’re still doing the work. You train in the mornings and have the afternoons free, so it’s nice.

What are you doing in the down time?

Not much, last week I was at Jack Conan’s wedding… I think maybe Mur (Conor Murray) has been to the most weddings. He’s been doing well and had his own one. I haven’t been to too many. This break I’m just going to stay around Dublin and do a bit of training.

How will the Johnny Sexton ban news impact the squad?

Not much to be honest, it is what it is. We’ll just keep going, and other lads will get a chance. He’ll be back for the World Cup, and it hasn’t really affected us much.

In the past when he isn’t around, does he take a back seat closer to games?

He lets whoever is captain do the role but he’ll definitely be involved. He’s so experienced and so good you want him to be involved. He’ll definitely help out and it’s training as usual at the moment.

Sense of relief it wasn’t longer than three games?

I don’t know if it was a relief. I didn’t even know when it was announced. I came in and the lads said it. You’re kind of in a bubble and it keeps going. He got the ban and then it’s just like, ‘what’s the next thing? We’re going training’. Nobody is relieved, I don’t think it’s the right word. We just deal with it and move on.

Long days in here, can you feel the excitement and intensity going up?

Maybe a little bit, but I wouldn’t say too different. As we came in first it was lower intensity and as the weeks have gone on it’s built up.

Peter O’Mahony said there were powerful meetings at the start of this block. What was the messaging from Andy Farrell?

There was at the start, just getting everyone back together. He was talking about the success, and the pushing on, going to a World Cup.

Have you thought about what it would mean to go there?

No, I’ve not let myself. I’m waiting until the squad is picked. For now I’ll think about the warm-up games.

What are you hoping to get from warm-up games?

Just getting an opportunity to show what I can do on the pitch. Hopefully I get a chance to play in a few of them. There are so many good players I’m sure everyone will be the same and they’ll all get a chance. Whenever I play, hopefully I play well and put my hand up.

Andy has trusted you to play in several positions, must give you confidence?

Yeah, obviously I had a lot of confidence, played in the Autumn. In the Six Nations I didn’t play a lot, but was in around the squad a lot so definitely have confidence that I’m trusted and can do it in different positions. Hopefully I get a chance in the warm-up games.

Lot of competition for squad – players have to make sure the aren’t being selfish at training? 

I don’t think there’s anything like that in this team. Everyone is helping each other out. I don’t think there is anyone like that. It’s always for the betterment of the team, that’s how you’re getting picked, if you’re making the right decisions for the team.

Any inspiration from the women’s soccer team?

It’s pretty cool, we were up watching it earlier. We had a break and everyone was up watching it on TV. It’s always class when Ireland are at a World Cup, any World Cup or any big sporting event. All of Ireland gets behind it and gets excited, it’s pretty cool watching it.

What’s the plan for yourself next week?

We still have to do stuff pretty much every day next week. You can do it on your own time, so it’s nicer. You can go off and chill out, grab a couple of friends, so you’re still running and going to the gym. We’re straight into match week the week after so you have to stay on top of it.

Versatility a strength, keen to impress that?

Yeah I think they know now that if there’s any gap to be filled in training, or someone isn’t training they move me in and it’s expected now I have to make sure I know everything. I’m not like a headless chicken running around, but I have to make sure I know all the roles just in case.

Training with yourselves or has anyone come in to help give reps?

We just had Bomber come in, Andrew Conway, for a week. He came in for a week, a few lads were getting load managed. It was pretty cool having him back in training.

Jimmy O'Brien

Any nights on the beer for bonding?

It’s good craic, we obviously spend a bit of time together and have a few drinks or whatever. I’m sure they’re planning something like a dinner where we can go and decompress and relax. Hopefully something like that when we go away.

Does this feel different, being at a World Cup camp?

It does feel a little bit different, just that there hasn’t been a game. This is like a pre-season, all training weeks and you’re definitely not looking ahead. It does feel different when you have a tournament coming and are training for one specific thing.

Been to a World Cup before?

Yeah, I went to the 2015 one in Wales… Me and Will Connors went over together, we were friends growing up, and our Dads. The four of us went over. I was just out of school so I was 18 I think, I was just about to start college. We didn’t get to an Ireland game, we couldn’t get tickets. We went to France New Zealand in the quarter-final, Julian Savea scored that try where he bumped everyone over.

Part of you thinking, “someday”?

I think it’s everyone’s dream playing rugby. I was just in the sub-academy so was pretty far away from going to a World Cup, but it was definitely a dream of mine growing up…

Did you go to many Ireland games, growing up?

The one that sticks out was I went to Croke Park, Ireland France [2007], Vincent Clerc scored at the end. That was one that sticks out, but not too many to be honest. Not for good reasons, but it was memorable.

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