Reilly O’Brien spent 963 days waiting in the wings for another shot at senior football before an injury to Adelaide Crows ruckman Sam Jacobs left the door ajar. The 23-year-old spoke to AFLPlayers.com.au about what it means to be playing AFL again and the factors that motivated him to continue honing his craft in the SANFL.
What was it like to return to the Crows’ senior line-up this year after 963 days between AFL games but also to have strung a few games together since?
It’s been great. I’ve been working towards that for a few years now so it’s been awesome to get an opportunity and work towards my position there. So far so good!
You were biding your time in the SANFL but also had periods of injury which rule you out of playing football. How challenging were those moments?
It was a tough couple of years there footy wise, especially after having the opportunity to play a few senior games in my second season. With Sam (Jacobs) being so durable and playing so well, there wasn’t the opportunity for me but also then doing my shoulder last year was a big setback. In the end, it gave me a good chance to refresh and build a really good fitness base going into the pre-season and focus on having a big year this year. It was pretty tough there at times, but it made me more driven and motivated to eventually play.
When you underwent the surgery halfway through last year, was there always a focus from Adelaide’s end that it was a matter of looking forward to 2019?
Definitely! I did the injury in about Round 5 last year and kept playing for probably close to six weeks after. The shoulder was popping out every game so I knew I wasn’t going to be getting a game in the AFL with a bung shoulder. The decision was made to get the surgery and it was at an opportune time so that when I got to pre-season I was fully recovered, which allowed me to get a really good running base and incorporate strength work through my legs and core into my program so that I could have an injury-free and strong pre-season. Despite the circumstances of not being able to play, it helped my preparation for this year.
What motivated you to keep working on your ruck craft during that time?
I got a taste of senior footy in 2016 which was great and that drove me to want to keep playing and experience more. In 2017, I didn’t really get that opportunity primarily through Sam’s form, which was fantastic. There were moments over those couple of years where it was challenging to keep the motivation going but in the end those two games I played in 2016 gave me the drive to keep going and want to play more. That little taste drove me to get back to senior footy.
Was there ever a point where you thought maybe football wasn’t going to happen in the capacity that you had hoped for?
I definitely had those moments. When you’re on an AFL list for a couple of years and you’re not playing you can lose that drive and purpose because you’re on a list but you’re playing in the reserves. It also provided me a good opportunity outside of football to spend some time focusing on my study but there are always those thoughts where you’re asking yourself, ‘Is footy the right thing for me?’. In the end, footy is a great lifestyle and something I enjoy so I wanted to focus on being able to give myself the best chance of breaking into the senior side. I still had those moments, though, where I questioned whether or not I should continue my football career.
You mentioned that you were studying during that time. How did you manage football and your full-time Biomedicine course?
I’d been chipping away at one or two subjects a semester throughout my career but last year when I did my shoulder I thought there was an opportunity to focus a bit more on my study. I did four subjects in semester two, which is considered a full-time load, but I had a bit more of that flexibility with my schedule because I was in the rehab group. It allowed me to get into uni a bit more and complete those subjects but I actually ended up going away for five weeks of our 12-week semester to Mexico. I was able to get it all done and I’m doing three subjects again this semester.
Were you studying on your travels or just enjoying the break away?
I was more just enjoying it (laughs). I didn’t bring the books and had exams when I got back so I had to crack into it. I studied a little bit on the plane but got stuck into it once I got back to Australia.
You mentioned before about having a really solid pre-season. You finished top three in the Crows’ time-trial, what do you put that added fitness down to?
It was actually a bit of a shock for me to come back and be running so well! Having that shoulder surgery gave me a chance through the back end of last season to focus on my hip and leg strength, which allowed me to attack my off-season running. I came back and shaved around 30 seconds off my 2km time, which was a bit of a surprise. In terms of actually bringing that into the season, it took me the first couple of games to adjust but I’m feeling really comfortable running-wise at the level and want to keep working on bringing that into my game and using it as a weapon against my opponents. It’s definitely helped in terms of endurance in the ruck, particularly towards the end of the game when you want to get that edge over your opponent.
Who have been some mentors for you or people you’ve worked closely with in that space?
I’ve been working really closely with Matthew ‘Doc’ Clarke, who is our ruck coach at the club. He’s awesome and had a great career playing 258 games as a ruckman so he’s a bit of a guru when it comes to everything ruck-related. Doc’s been awesome in driving us and setting up clear focus areas to help improve my craft during the pre-season and even into the season proper.
Do you think an element of your personal success and improvement has come down to feeling more comfortable with the role you play in the team?
Playing a couple of years in the ruck, even at SANFL level, you begin to develop a really clear understanding of the role. It’s been about competing, following up and being strong aerially. They were key focus areas for me, as I am sure they are for other ruckmen in the competition but understanding that helped. The more I begin to understand my role, the more confident I’m becoming at AFL level too.
From what I understand you spend your time away from football focusing on your tertiary study but what other passions and interests do you have?
I love getting down to the beach. They’re great here, especially in Summer. I’m a huge coffee drinker and I’ve just moved to the east side of Adelaide which is abundant in cafes and great little coffee spots. I’ve been fishing a couple of times with (first-year player) Ned McHenry who has come over from Geelong and he’s just got himself a new, little boat so he’s been dragging me on that.
That’s all from me, Reilly. Thanks for chatting and good luck with the remainder of your season!
No worries, thanks Kavisha.