SEAN O’Brien has announced his intention to retire from rugby at the end of the season.
Nicknamed the ‘Tullow Tank’, O’Brien started his career with his local club before going on to establish himself as one of the best players in the world in his position. He made his Leinster debut in 2008 and went on to make 126 appearances for the province. He was named ERC European Player of the Season in 2010/11 when Leinster were crowned Heineken Cup champions. He scored a try in the following season’s Heineken Cup final as Leinster beat Ulster to regain their title.
He also shone on the international stage. After winning an U20 Grand Slam, he made his full international debut in 2009 and went on to make 56 appearances for his country, playing at World Cups in 2011 and 2015. He also made five test appearances for the British and Irish Lions and went on tours to Australia in 2013 and New Zealand in 2017.
He signed for London Irish in 2020 and that is where he will finish his career.
He released a statement this morning saying:
“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.”
Current Leinster Head Coach Leo Cullen paid tribute to his former team-mate.
“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.
“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.”