'fearless competitor’ | 

Former Leinster and Ireland ace Seán O’Brien to retire from rugby at end of season

Seán O'Brien of London Irish during the pre-season friendly match against Connacht at The Sportsground in Galway last September

Cian Tracey

Former Leinster and Ireland back-row Seán O'Brien is set to retire from professional rugby at the end of the season.

O'Brien will call time on his glittering 14-year career, which saw him become a global star at the peak of his powers.

O'Brien endured plenty of injury struggles along the way, but he won 56 caps for Ireland, played 126 games for Leinster, while he went on two Lions tours, before he moved to London Irish in 2019.

The 'Tullow Tank was a member of Ireland's Six Nations winning squad in 2015, while he won four Heineken Cups, a Challenge Cup, as well as five league medals with Leinster.

O'Brien was named European Player of the Year in 2011, as his reputation as one of the world's best flankers was enhanced further.

"Seán will be remembered as one of the very special Leinster players, particularly his performances in helping Leinster win the Heineken Cup in 2011 and 2012,” Leinster boss Leo Cullen, who played alongside and coached O'Brien, said.

"He was a fearless competitor and he gave incredible confidence to those around him.

"Seán also made a huge impact at grassroots level where he has done so much great work in helping grow the game and inspiring so many young players to believe that anything was possible.

"On behalf of everyone at Leinster Rugby, we would like to wish Seán every success in the future as he takes on new challenges in the next stage of his life.”

O'Brien will bring the curtain down on his career at London Irish, where he has made a big impact, particularly off the pitch, under Declan Kidney and Les Kiss.

At 35, he bows out as an Irish great.

A statement from O'Brien read: "After much deliberation and consultation with my family and friends, I can confirm that I have decided to retire from playing professional rugby at the end of the season.

"I’ve had an incredible career and am thankful for every second of my time at Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the British and Irish Lions.

"As a 20-year-old, I fulfilled my childhood dream by pulling on the Leinster jersey, and when I made my debut against Cardiff Blues in 2008, I never imagined what would then follow over the next 14 years. A special mention must go to Colin McEntee for his ‘big brother’ approach when I joined the academy.

"I feel lucky to have experienced so many wonderful highlights over the course of my career.

"At an international level, I feel privileged to have won 56 caps for Ireland. I gave everything I could possibly give, and I will always look back with great pride at every time I pulled on the Irish jersey to represent my country, my county, my friends and family.

"I feel very fortunate to have had the career I've had but none of it would have been possible without the support of so many people.

"Firstly, I would like to thank my Mam and Dad for taking me to Ballon Rathoe Community Games and then Tullow RFC when I was eight years old. They took me to every sport in my area which gave me the exposure to all types of sport. They were the perfect role models who taught me to not be afraid of hard work, which certainly helped me progress my career. I can’t thank them enough.

"I was lucky to play alongside some great players and under some brilliant managers and coaches during my time at Tullow, Leinster, Ireland, London Irish and the Lions and I would like to thank every one of them. I would also like to thank the backroom staff at each of those clubs, they all showed me fantastic support during my time with them.

"I would like to say a special thank you to some people who believed in me early on in my career, who are sadly no longer with us. Jim Kealy (Tullow RFC) and David Wilkie (Edenderry RFC) always said the right thing to me and gave me direction when needed.

"Away from rugby, I feel lucky to have had such a close group of friends that I have always been able to count and rely on throughout the course of my career. Thanks to all of you, especially James Foley and Daniel Davey.

"Finally, the most important thank you is reserved for my family. I can’t thank my Mum, Dad, brothers (Stephen and William) and sisters (Caroline and Alex) enough for their unconditional support over the years. It has meant everything to me and to have six nephews watching means the world to me.

"There is still a lot of rugby to be played this season before the time comes to hang up my boots, and I am fully focused on giving my all in the London Irish jersey until then. I’m going to soak up every minute I get on the pitch and look forward to helping the team wherever I can.

"I am excited about the future and feel I still have a lot to offer the game, in whatever capacity that may be. I am currently taking my time to consider a number of options and will make an announcement with regards to the next stage of my career very soon."

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