In The Second 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
Despite all his club rugby, up to the age of fifteen, having been over in Widnes, Great Sankey High School, to which he had transferred at eleven, was firmly established in Warrington. Here, Gareth was part of a really good school team which most impressively won the Schools’ National Cup Final, beating St Cuthbert’s, Castleford, and also winning both the Regional, and National Championships.
In addition to all this, school rugby also led to his playing for the Warrington Town Team, which naturally brought him to the attention of the Warrington Wolves, and, in part, led to his being snapped up for their Academy team. Gary Chambers was the coach to the U18s side, and Gareth readily acknowledges the significant influence that Gary had on him.
The whole squad found their first year together something of a learning curve, particularly playing against opponents somewhat older than themselves, but once they got to their second year they had progressed and matured, and were able to match many of the other teams. By the time they reached what was then the U20s, they won through to the Grand Final, though for Gareth this was a somewhat bitter-sweet occasion, as he had been sidelined for much of the season, with injury.
That injury had been picked up playing in the second of two outings with the first team. He had made his debut as a nineteen year old, in 2009, in a home game against Castleford, following some extremely impressive performances with the Academy, and that fixture provided him with something of a dream start. Not only did it prove to be a most convincing of wins, he scored the opening try of the game, and although he had been nervous ahead of the match, he found that those nerves had helped bring an edge to his game.
Unsurprisingly, he retained his place for the following week’s Challenge Cup encounter with Swinton, and it was in this game that he unfortunately picked up the knee injury which was to sideline him for the remainder of the season. Happily, having got over it, he has had no recurrence, and has been trouble free, since.
In 2010, having outgrown the Wolves Academy, Gareth spent two seasons on dual registration at their partner club, Swinton Lions, where he struck up a good half back pairing with scrum half, Ian Watson, which, as might be expected, was to play a significant part in his eventual move to join the Salford Red Devils.
The one downside of his time at Warrington, upon his return there, was the spasmodic nature of his being selected, and he would dearly have loved more continuity with this.
“I’m not one for giving up, in any circumstances,” he declares. “This sort of thing is all part of being a member of a team.”
Needless to say, his move here has been motivated by this desire for more frequent and sustained game time.
“The time was right for me to take on a new challenge,” he acknowledges. “I know Ian Watson very well after playing with him at Swinton, and that ensured I settled in, really well.”
After a full season with the Red Devils, which saw him make the significant transition to fullback, and his involvement in the Million Pound Game, he can now add THAT drop goal to all his other on-field contributions.