Watching the Republic of Ireland Women’s soccer team in action earlier today gave Jimmy O’Brien a taste of what it could be like if he makes the cut for Ireland’s 33-man Rugby World Cup squad.
O’Brien and his team-mates are coming towards the end of their latest two-week block of training at the IRFU High Performance Centre in Blanchardstown, having first assembled for their pre-season camps on Sunday, June 18.
The two weeks on-and-one week off schedule means Ireland’s 42 World Cup hopefuls will be back at home next week, armed with a personalised training plan to work through.
Munster duo Andrew Conway and Diarmuid Barron have also come in to train with the group for spells during the last two weeks, as their first warm-up fixture – the Bank of Ireland Nations Series opener against Italy on Saturday, August 5 – draws ever closer.
One of the most recent debutants in the squad, O’Brien won his first cap against South Africa last November. He got 48 minutes of game-time during this year’s Guinness Six Nations, so is itching to feature in these upcoming games at the Aviva Stadium and in Bayonne.
“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,” said the skilful Leinster back.
“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.”
O’Brien knows his versatility is a big strength and certainly boosts his chances of making Andy Farrell’s final squad for the World Cup. He has already played at centre, full-back and on the wing during his five-Test Ireland career.
Despite only being involved off the bench during the Grand Slam-winning run, the 26-year-old was still heavily involved in the training and preparations, and his assuredness in ‘knowing all the roles’ is very much a key asset.
Obviously I had a lot of confidence, I played in the autumn (last year). 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. 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.
“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.”
O’Brien says that training so far has been ‘tough, but enjoyable’, while the coaches and backroom staff have also been putting together some fun off-field events like last Sunday’s team barbecue, which was a real family affair.
Farrell’s charges had a well-timed break in training to cheer on the Republic of Ireland in their FIFA Women’s World Cup opener against co-hosts Australia. The Sydney clash was attended by 75,784 fans and watched by millions more around the globe.
“It’s pretty cool, we were up watching it earlier,” explained O’Brien. “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.”
The Eadestown native has previous World Cup experience himself, have been a World Rugby U-20 Championship runner-up with the Ireland Under-20s in 2016, and two years later he helped Ireland to win the Challenge Trophy at the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens.
He left the Sevens game behind as he graduated from the Leinster Academy to begin a senior contract in 2019/20. Now he has 71 provincial caps to his name, scoring 21 tries – including nine in the last two Heineken Champions Cup campaigns.
O’Brien got to go to a 2015 Rugby World Cup match as a teenager, taking in New Zealand’s quarter-final win over France in Cardiff with his father John, and good friend, Leinster and Ireland flanker Will Connors, and his dad Nick.
“I went to the 2015 World Cup 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.
“I think playing in a World Cup is everyone’s dream. I was just in the sub-Academy (at the time) so was pretty far away from going to a World Cup, but it was definitely a dream of mine growing up.”
The Naas clubman has not allowed himself to think about playing at France 2023 just yet, as his full focus is on Ireland’s trio of warm-up clashes with Italy, England, and Samoa, and earning that coveted World Cup squad place.
He is taking each week as it comes, not looking too far down the line. Having toured New Zealand with the extended squad last summer and played his first handful of Tests since then, he is hungry for more opportunities in the green jersey.
Speaking about how camp has differed when there is a World Cup on the horizon, he added: “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.
“We still have to do stuff pretty much every day next week (out of camp). 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 (playing Italy) the week after, so you have to stay on top of it.”