In The First Of Two Episodes, Gareth O’Brien Meets With David Clegg To Look Back Over His Playing Career Which Has Culminated, To Date, With His Match-Winning Drop Goal In The MPG
Having lived all his life in Warrington, it might, at first, seem unthinkable that Gareth O’Brien’s first involvement in rugby league would be in neighbouring, Widnes, but that is just where as a five year old he went to learn his rugby. This was, in fact, due to his father, David, being one of the coaches in the junior setup, at Halton Hornets ARLFC.
Not that his playing in his home town’s fiercest competitors was ever an issue between Gareth and his friends. They all just regarded him as belonging to the club at which his father was the coach, while Gareth himself, was happy just to be playing in that environment. There certainly was never a problem, either, with his father being his coach, not only from his earliest days there, but also moving up with the team through the age groups, which was the normal practice in the club.
“As far I was concerned, as our coach, he was the boss when we were out on the field, but at home he was just my dad,” he reminisces.
From his earliest days in the sport, Gareth found that he was good at passing, and with his clever footwork was clearly tailor-made for half back, which also just happened to be the position his father had occupied during his playing days, in rugby union.
After a five year period in charge of them, David O’Brien felt that, with the lads growing older, it would be appropriate for him to step aside from coaching the team with his own son in, and he was replaced by that well-known Widnesian, Paul Hulme, brother of former Salford loose forward, David Hulme.
Not that this totally resolved the father-son issue, as Paul’s son, Liam, was also in that team, playing at loose forward. Such was Paul’s stature within the game, having played alongside brother David, at Widnes, before moving to join the Swinton Lions, that, once again, no-one remotely thought twice about the arrangement.
“We were a good solid squad, and were always competitive in every game we played,” is his assessment, “though we always seemed to come second, in both league and cup games to Rylands Sharks from Warrington.”
This was particularly exemplified in 2006, when they got through to the U13s Lancashire Cup Final. This time though they were unlucky that a pass Gareth made to Liam Hulme, early in the game, was ruled forward, because it had put him in under the posts. Had this stood, it would have led to a quite different match, thereafter, but as it was, Rylands regrouped and ran out winners by twenty points to eight.
After a ten year spell, he had come to the end of the road with Halton, whose youth setup did not progress beyond U15, and so he moved to join, of all people, Rylands Sharks. It would seem appropriate to report that with Gareth in their ranks the team swept all before them, but, in one of those cruel twists of fate, the team was eliminated from the National Cup, before they reached the final stages of the competition. Nevertheless, he maintains that he thoroughly enjoyed his time there, meeting up, as he did, with lads alongside whom he had played in the Warrington Scholarship side.