Tommy O'Brien on how he balances his rugby hopes with college commitments 3 years ago

Tommy O'Brien on how he balances his rugby hopes with college commitments

Tommy O'Brien had a hard enough time keeping on top of the studies in school... then college and a Leinster Academy deal came along.

O'Brien is one of those special talents that made his Ireland U20 debut as an 18-year-old as there was simply no holding him back any more.

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The Leinster back impressed in the 2017 Six Nations as an attacking spark with one hell of a commitment to hard tackling. A couple of his big hits generated headlines and viral social media postings. This year, he is back for more and captain to boot.

That honour and responsibility has added to an already hefty work-load as the versatile back is juggling his academy sessions, underage and 'A' matches and an intense college course.

"I would have come through the schools system, so playing for Blackrock College all the way up," he tells SportsJOE.

"That would have been intense - training three or four times a week and a game on Saturday - so I wouldn't have played with a club. But since I'm out of school, now, I play for UCD, which is where I go to college as well. I'm really enjoying my club rugby."

"I'm doing actuary and financial studies," he added, "and I'm in my second year now. Enjoying that too.

"I'm friends with a few lads in the course, so they help me out. It's just about trying to catch up on notes. You'd miss the odd lectures with matches and that but, generally, the lecturers are very accommodating. It's about trying to catch up as best you can."

At one stage of our life or the other, we have all used the excuse that we can't go training or make a match because we have a lecture, or vice versa. O'Brien is not one for making excuses. Sure, it's a struggle but he gets his work done.

The Ireland U20 captain says his sporting upbringing was just like 'your usual Irish kid'. "Some GAA, football, golf, tennis, athletics," he says. "As you get older, you kind of prioritise and focus in on one so that was rugby for me.

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"My dad would be big into rugby and he would have played in school but there wouldn't be massive rugby pedigree. I would have grown up in Foxrock, just down the road from where I went to school. No massive rugby pedigree but we would have always been mad into watching it and I played it from a young age.

"My dad loves getting along to the games. He would have been my biggest influence when I was younger. He was always out the back, passing a ball or kicking a ball with me. I'm sure he was probably sick of it when he was younger but he's reaping the rewards and getting a few free tickets out of it now! He's loving it as much as I am."

As for those big tackles, O'Brien smiles when they are brought up.

"Attacking and scoring tries gets a lot of mentions," he says, "but sometimes it can be equally as satisfying making a defensive tackle or a turnover. I enjoy that side of the game, but I love scoring the tries as well."

As captain, and someone midway through his second U20 campaign, O'Brien is in a good position to flag some of this season's top young performers.

"It's still quite early on but, obviously, James McCarthy went quite well with a man of the match performance against Italy. Twice nice tries.

"Across the board, a few of the guys have been really stepping up - Jack Augnier, Jack O'Sullivan, Jack Dunne as well... a lot of Jacks there; I didn't mean that! A lot of guys have stepped up - Harry Byrne has been very good as well.

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"There is a lot of strength in depth too and Noel [McNamara] has really pushed that - that no-one is allowed to get comfortable. And if you're not performing well in training, you'll get swapped out."