Leinster decision to let Sean O'Brien lift trophy settled way before kick-off
"He’s up there with the best players I’ve ever played with."
This was not the way Sean O'Brien would have pictured finishing up with Leinster, but lifting a trophy surrounded by his jubilant squad-mates and backroom staff was not a bad way to sign out.
Sean O'Brien has been fighting injuries of some shape or severity for the past five years. In his post-match chat, after Leinster's 18-15 Guinness PRO14 final victory, senior coach Stuart Lancaster lamented that he had never got a fully fit and world-class for a long enough stretch of games.
In 2017, O'Brien raged against the toll injuries had taken on his body to perform superbly on the British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand. There have been fleeting glimpses, since, but nothing sustained.
O'Brien battled against injuries again this season but was crucial in getting Leinster to another European Cup final. That final, against Saracens, got away from him and it is unfortunate that it was his final game playing behind the Leinster badge. He is off to London Irish next season but he leaves with another league winners' medal for his collection.
It was fitting, then, given all he has done for this squad for over a decade, that O'Brien was afforded the honour of raising the PRO14 trophy with captain Johnny Sexton.
Let's be havin' ya Glasgow!
Leinster lads lord it up in Paradise pic.twitter.com/NeckOJMawz
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) May 25, 2019
Following the game, Sexton spoke on why O'Brien had been asked to come front and centre for the celebrations, and his Leinster legacy. Sitting alongside Leinster head coach Leo Cullen, he said:
"We knew early in the week that Seanie was struggling a little bit. We wanted to make sure his last contribution was not going to be the Saracens game. His last memory, now, will be lifting the trophy.
"There's not too many now that have lifted the trophy by themselves and Leinster, I think, maybe Leo and Isa (Nacewa) may have been the only ones.
"But it is fitting for him and I'm going to miss Sean greatly. For me, he's up there with some of the best players I’ve ever played with. As a forward, I'd say he's the best... no offence Leo!"
After Cullen remarked, 'None taken!', Sexton continued:
"He has strings to his bow that some other forwards in the world just didn't have, in his prime.
"As a leader and a player. we're going to miss him. But we'll drive things from within and make sure those younger guys live up to his standards."
O'Brien, Sexton and the rest of the Leinster squad were out of Glasgow on a late-night flight and the party will begin back in Dublin.
It should rage on for a day or two, and is well deserved.