Leinster and Ireland flanker Sean O’Brien is running out of options and time as he looks to overcome the persistent injury that has decimated his career
June is almost upon us and that means we have Ireland’s summer tour of South Africa to look forward to.
With the domestic season nearing a conclusion, eyes are already turning to the much anticipated trip to the southern hemisphere where Ireland will attempt to put to bed on of their most unwanted records, that being that Ireland have never beaten the Springboks on their home turf.
It is already known that Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt cannot call on the likes of Peter O’Mahony, Tommy Bowe, Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien, as all are laid up with either long term injuries or niggles due to long term injuries.
On Thursday, it was announced by Leinster’s head coach, Leo Cullen, that O’Brien is to undergo surgery on his hamstring, a procedure that will see him out of action for ‘a considerable length of time’.
The ‘Tullow Tank’ has been largely absent from the field of play for the last 12 months, with only cameo appearances earlier this year for Ireland in the Six Nations match against France.
It was in that match that O’Brien, seemingly back to fitness, lasted all of twenty minutes before his hamstring gave out again, making it the third time in a year that the flanker has suffered such an injury.
Any athlete who has felt the familiar twinge of a hamstring tear will tell you that aside from the sting and burn that comes accompanies the big leg muscle giving out, recovery from such an injury requires patience as it takes time for the tendons to recover.
The problem with the hamstring is once it gets injured, there is a propensity for re-occurrence due to scar tissues that form on the tendon.
Given that the hamstring is actually a series of tendons that support three of the major leg muscles, all exhaustively used in running, scrummaging and rucking, any flaw in their makeup will be quickly put under extreme stress, often resulting in failure.
Such has been the past year of Sean O’Brien’s life and now, with news of his pending surgery, the foreseeable future also. With the prospect of a further layoff the inevitable questions over his future begin to be asked.
At 29, O’Brien should be at the peak of his career but instead looks set to add to the already 18 months he has been hampered with a decimated hamstring.
As his injury woes continue, the similarities between O’Brien’s injury woes to those suffered by former Munster and Ireland hooker, Jerry Flannery, can no longer be dismissed.
The Galway native was forced into early retirement back in 2012 due to persistent calf muscle injuries that caused him to miss much of the 2010 and 2011 seasons and his final game saw him last only a matter of minutes before his last ‘return from injury’ came to an abrupt end as he once again succumbed to calf problems.
The cycle of ‘tearing and repairing’ that Sean O’Brien has endured since the spring of 2015 is surely taking its toll, much like it did with Flannery.
It might well be argued, and perhaps already spoken about behind closed doors, that this latest surgery might the final roll of the dice for O’Brien as he bids to shake off the shackles of a hamstring tighter than a piano string.
If this fails then there may be no other avenue left to explore, save for the one that leads to retirement.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena
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