Former Déise star O'Brien driving standards in Cavan


Kevin Óg Carney

Liam O'Brien is a big fish in a small pond and is positively luxuriating in his new environs.

At Kingspan Breffni less than two weeks ago he was the stand-out player on the field in Cavan's National League victory over Louth.

The Waterford native ought to have been in peacock-vain mode after setting up a raft of scores in the game either side of chipping in with a 1-11 personal tally.

However, instead of exhibiting braggart impudence to the curious onlookers in the car park after he finished togging in, the 24-year-old veterinarian wore the straitjacket of humility.

If not the world, O'Brien has Cavan Hurling at his feet right now. With Daniel Wiffen-like shoulders, O’Brien’s wrist action and eagle-eye has got him noticed like no other Cavan hurler this past decades or possibly ever.

A player of glittering talent, he has been labelled Cavan Hurling’s blue-eyed boy and looks very pleased with himself as he steps out with the bearded woman of hurling in Ulster. Against Louth, you just couldn't take your eyes off either of them as they co-produced an all action, triumphant second round show.

In recent weeks, Cavan received more media exposure by the Fourth Estate than some of the bluebloods of hurling and O’Brien has played an integral role in this rise to prominence in Division 3A.

"I wouldn't have known anything," O'Brien says when asked what he knew of Cavan hurling prior to linking up with the squad in the Polo Grounds last November.

"I didn't know Cavan had a hurling team before coming to the county or who the clubs were."

For the uber small band of dedicated hurling enthusiasts who have seen the world's greatest field game progress over the years in Cavan with all the pace of a pall-bearer, O'Brien's arrival to this parish is like a match made in Heaven.

But while the county's increased hurling profile has been sign-posted for a while, with O'Brien on board now, there's a decent chance that Cavan's flagship hurling players who have floated about like a butterfly for the past five years or so are going to get to sting like a bee.

"I wouldn't rule anything out this year as regards to what we can achieve," says O'Brien who works for the Finbar Kiernan-led veterinarian business in Corlugan Business Park.

"The bookies seemingly had Sligo down as 9/1-on to beat us in the first round and we came to within three scores of a win and then the win over Louth came around and suddenly you're thinking maybe we should be thinking of promotion (from Division 3A) instead of just trying to retain our place in the division (after winning Division 3B last year).

"We're very happy with our two performances in the league so far but it (NHL) isn't the be-all and end-all for us. We'll learn from the league games but the championship (Lory Meagher Cup) is the priority.

“I don’t want to be jumping the gun in terms of what we can do this year but there’s a real good feeling with this Cavan squad. There’s something there that’s in the making, in the building and if everyone can stay injury free, we’ll give it a fair crack at getting to Croke Park (Lory Meagher Cup) because that’s where every player wants to play. That’s a huge carrot in itself.”

O'Brien shares a house with a couple of co-workers. The house lies approximately half-way between Ballyconnell and Belturbet.

Cavan’s adopted son is registered up the road in Milltown with the local Drumlane Sons of O'Connell. As such he is sure to be kept busy on and off the field of play.

He says his aforementioned employer (Finbar Kiernan) is a true-blue GAA fan and has been very accommodating in terms of getting time off to train and play right from the time since he took up employment with the Cavan town-based firm last September - his first job upon graduating from UCD. The fact that Cavan senior hurling team-management are equally understanding when it comes to him being a tad late for training at times is just dandy too, the dual player adds.

Arguably the sweetest striker of a sliotar on the current Cavan senior hurling team, Cavan’s luminous number 10 is the son of William and Caroline O'Brien. The family’s home place is in a little townland called Ballinameela, some 15 minutes drive from Dungarvan and about four hours drive from the home of Cavan GAA.

Cavan’s current top scorer and ace freetaker started his hurling career at four years of age; as you do when growing up in the Elysian Fields of Hurling.

From the age of four to 20, his father was his mentor and he was coached well, so well in fact that he progressed to play at every underage level for his native county.

As a dual club, Ballinameela provided ample opportunities for O'Brien the younger to play Gaelic football but, unsurprisingly, it was with the camán that the aspiring O'Brien gained most success and relative fame with his club's annexation of the Waterford JHC in 2018 and their subsequent journey to the Munster final thereafter (only to lose out to Cloughduv of Cork) the highlight of his club (hurling) career to date.

Mind you, he doesn’t play down the significance of winning the Cavan Senior Hurling title with his adopted club East Cavan Gaels last year in his maiden outing.

Indeed, the former UCD Fitzgibbon Cup star and Harty Cup (Munster Colleges) quarter-finalist hopes to some day – sooner rather than later – show off the Tom Walsh Memorial Cup (Cavan SHC) to his cousins (among them former Cavan senior footballer Michael Argue) in Bailieborough.

Right now, he is delighted to be playing the game he loves most of all in a gaeldom that is “novel, different, and that is a refreshing change.”

The bonhomie he has experienced in hurling dressing-rooms in Cavan is something he has found “pleasantly surprising” and “very welcoming” and he is extremely pleased that he got the phone call from current Cavan boss Ollie Bellew and the invitation thereafter from ECG to join the fold.

“I always said over the years that wherever I was going to be based, work-wise, or even when travelling that I would want to the opportunity to play hurling and being in Cavan has so far given me the best of both worlds, hurling and my work. I couldn’t be happier.”

Long may his move to Breffni land be the gift that keeps on giving.