SEAN O’BRIEN believes London Irish’s move back to the capital after a 20-year absence will help strengthen the club’s connection with Irish ex-pats living in London.
The two time British and Irish Lion, who won 61 caps for Ireland, has played just one game for London Irish since joining the team in 2019 - which resulted in a 39-0 loss to Sale Sharks in March of the same year - having been out injured for nearly a year with a career-threatening hip injury.
The Exiles restart their Premiership season at Bath on Saturday and having spent lockdown on his family farm back in Carlow, the former Irish international says he is in the best shape of his life and excited to get going.
“It’s hugely exciting, we’ve put in a lot of hard work over the past few months and I think we've improved a lot as a side and hopefully, you know, we get to put a lot of stuff that we've done over the past couple of months into this weekend,” O’Brien explained.
“I’m really looking forward to it, I’ve gotten through the most training I’ve ever done in my career, which has been brilliant," he added.
“I’ve got a really good base, a big pre-season in me, and always in the past when I’ve had a good pre-season, I’ve had a really good run and a good year of rugby.”
Historically, the club has always featured a large Irish personnel, something which had been lacking in recent years, before the appointment of former Ireland head coach Declan Kidney and the signing of O’Brien.
However, the strong Irish connection the club has was something that attracted the former European Player of the Year to make the move to West London and is something he only wants to help strengthen.
“The Irish connection was something that I looked at before coming over here and was one of the things that attracted me to this club,” O’Brien admits.
“There are so many people over here that really want to support us and get involved in what we are trying to build,” he adds.
“Even going for coffees around the place and lunches there is always an Irish person around so we are really trying to get that connection back with those expats that are over here and get a bit of a boost going again for the club.”
Created by a group of Irishmen united by a passion for rugby and living in London in 1898, London Irish are a club with a historic Irish and London connection.
However, the move to the Madejski Stadium in Reading made it difficult to maintain the connection with the Irish people in London, something the former Irish flanker is confident will be bolstered by the club moving to Brentford for the start of the 2020/2021 season.
“[The move] absolutely will strengthen the connection, there is no doubt about it,” he says.
“The Madejski has been good to London Irish over the years but from what I’ve seen since coming over here is that it is very far out for fans.”
He added: “So I think moving to Brentford and having that access to the stadium from all over London is going to be a massive part of it, the Irish people will come and support, they love their rugby.
“I think there are a lot of people excited about the move back to Brentford, especially us players. We are looking forward to seeing some big crowds there.”