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Nervous wait for O'Brien ahead of back-to-back premiership chanceFriday, September 22, 2017 - 1:55 AM - by Chris Pike

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NOTHING will stop Peel Thunder's greatest ever player Rory O'Brien from being there this week for the birth of his third child and that is creating a dramatic week as he prepares to try and become a dual premiership player.

O'Brien and his wife Ebony were expected to welcome their third child, a daughter, into the world by Wednesday of this week making for quite the special Grand Final week as he prepares to line up for Peel against Subiaco at Domain Stadium on Sunday.

However as yet the little sister for Ivy and Hugo is yet to arrive and as Grand Final day draws closer, that's creating some nervous moments.

Two years ago when O'Brien left East Fremantle to return to his original club Peel Thunder, he did appear destined to finish his career as a remarkably decorated career including a Sandover Medal and five fairest and best awards without a premiership.

He had gone close with a Grand Final loss with East Fremantle in 2012 and then a heartbreaking preliminary final loss also with the Sharks in 2014, but when he arrived back at the Thunder they had yet to win a single final in the club's history.

That all changed last year with O'Brien having a tremendous return season and playing in that historic premiership triumph. He has again had an outstanding 2017 and could even be on track to win a sixth fairest and best award having also become Peel's longest-serving player.

The chance to become a dual premiership player was beyond his wildest dreams when he thought of returning to Peel ahead of the 2016 season, but for the 31-year-old nothing will come before being there when Ebony gives birth to their new daughter no matter what that means.

"Baby No. 3 is on the way due the 20th September and I have been at the birth of my first two kids, and nothing will stop me being there for the third," O'Brien said.

"Hopefully she is there in time to see Grand Final day and that would be pretty special to have all three kids there with my wife. But until the natural process takes care of itself, we'll just have to wait and see what happens."

Even without the team success of the past two years, O'Brien's career would have seen him go down as perhaps the most decorated player of the modern era with the 2013 Sandover Medal, three Lynn Medals, two Tuckey Medals and state representation.

He has now played a club record 138 games with Peel either side of the 108 he played with East Fremantle on top of a season in the SANFL with North Adelaide in 2008.

But now to have won a premiership last year and to have a chance to win another on Sunday if Peel can overcome Subiaco at Subiaco Oval, that would be something more than even he could have dreamed of.

"It would be something I can look on and then know that all the time I had given to footy was worth it to get to win that last game in September a couple of times," he said.

"To do it last year for the first time after 13 years, I was relieved and overawed by it because I had put so much into and got so close a few times but never quite got there. 

"The chances don’t come around too often but to now have another chance the year after is pretty special and obviously I'd really cherish it if we won. 

"I'll be giving my all on Sunday as will the other 21 guys that pull on the jumper because you don’t always get this chance, especially to win back to back. For that to happen at the club I started with would be a great feeling."

Winning flags was far from on the radar for O'Brien and Peel in his opening 92-game stint with the club even though he did get to enjoy colts premiership success in 2004.

It was some team success he was craving at league level that led him to making the move to East Fremantle in 2011 but it wasn’t quite to be with the 2012 Grand Final loss to Claremont and then a horrible kicking display in front of goal cost the Sharks the preliminary final against Subiaco in 2014.

By the end of 2015, O'Brien knew that he could no longer do the travel to and from Mandurah while juggling his work commitments with Infiniti Group on top of wanting to be home more with wife Ebony, their children Hugo and Ivy, and the possibility of a third on the horizon.

He was willing to walk away from his WAFL career if a return to Peel couldn’t be worked out, but things came together. Two years later O'Brien is still pinching himself that after the horror times that the Thunder had gone through in their formative years to be part of success now.

"I look back at the end of my East Fremantle stint and I didn’t know what I was going to do with footy, it was coming back to Peel or finishing up. I still felt I had something to give to WAFL and to get a lifeline at the club I started at was a great opportunity," O'Brien said.

"Then to win last year's grand final was a bit of a fairytale in my first year back and to win my first grand final where I started was fantastic. To now be in another grand final is a bit surreal. 

"I'm pretty excited about that and I'm excited for the club. We have been through some tough years. We had a 20-year reunion last year and I had played with most of the guys who had been there and the club had been through some tough times which people quickly forget. 

"We claimed our fair share of wooden spoons and I've played in my beltings. I've definitely lost more games playing for Peel than I've won but everyone forgets that when you start having success. I treasure these moments more knowing the hard yards that have been done and the guys who have missed out."

As for what has stopped Peel from achieving success previously, O'Brien puts it down to the lack of ability of impressive groups of young players coming through the colts ending up sticking around to be long-term league players.

Combine that with a history of recruits generally not staying for too many consecutive years and those are the two key ingredients that successful clubs during O'Brien's career like Subiaco, South Fremantle and Claremont have possessed to win multiple premierships.

O'Brien has no doubt that if that colts premiership group he was part of in 2004 when he won the fairest and best could have transitioned into a strong league team. They again won the colts flag in 2005 but it just never could transition to those players sticking around at senior level.

But he has clearly seen the benefits of the alignment to the club as a whole in recent years and despite the over the top negativity it receives, he sees that it has been tremendous for Peel from the ground up.

"We had a very good colts side there a few times but the demands of WAFL footy sees a lot of guys drift away because of work and family commitments and things like that," he said.

"We first had success in the colts in 2004 and I have no doubt if that group stayed together we could have had some success at senior level earlier. You see with a lot of clubs that have success that it's on the back of the local talent who stick together for a number of years and you top up with a couple of recruits. 

"Peel has never been able to sustain their recruits and I'm not sure what the reasons are for that, then the local guys haven’t been able to stay around either. I do feel if those colts teams stayed together we could have become a strong club earlier but now the alignment the last few years has strengthened our reserves, our depth and our club in general."

After finishing the home and away season in third position with a 12-8 record, Peel has been tremendous in its first two finals beating top two teams South Fremantle and Subiaco to move straight into a second straight Grand Final.

"They were the two top teams for the year and rightfully so. Subi had lost one and were on a 19-game winning streak and South only lost four so we knew going into the finals we were going to have to play a totally different type of footy," O'Brien said.

"We know that finals is contested, hard footy and from the start of each game we made that our main focus. We knew our skills and everything would stand up but we knew we had to bring the intent straight away and that was our biggest focus in those two games. 

"We knew if we could get a good start that we could control the game, but we knew two good sides would come back at stages. So we knew we'd have to withstand that and try to go again which we were able to do in both games. 

"There were periods in each game that we'll review heavily heading into the Grand Final to make sure we learn from it and see why it happened, and what happened so that we are ready for it on Grand Final day."

Peel had the week off while Subiaco defeated South Fremantle in last Sunday's preliminary final to set up a rematch of last year's Grand Final this Sunday in what will be the last ever official football match at Subiaco Oval before the opening of the new Perth Stadium.

For O'Brien, it was a good feeling having the week off to prepare for the Grand Final following two impressive wins over the Bulldogs and Lions.

"It's a pretty good feeling knowing that we got the job done against Subi to get that week off and to make our way into the Grand Final. That gave us two weeks to prepare for it and get our bodies right and watch the game on the weekend to find out who our opponents would be. It's definitely a different build up and feeling to last year," he said.

"Having that extra time means you definitely have to not overthink the game but the main part is to get our structures and game plan right while making sure we get the right kilometres in our body to know that we aren’t coming off the week off slow and sluggish because you took it easy. 

"That's really on our fitness staff to make sure we are training at the right intensity while using the week off to freshen up and get that right. It's probably more a mental refresher that we need and make sure we don’t overthink the whole build up to Grand Final week and the Grand Final itself.

If O'Brien plays on again in 2018, he will become Peel's first ever player to reach 150 games and earn automatic life membership while moving past the 250-game mark in the WAFL.

He will also be doing so as a father of three so he knows that every season from now on could be his last and that's why his motivation to perform and prepare at such a high level allows him to remain among the elite players in the WAFL.

"It probably comes from personal drive and I've always told myself that I will do everything I have to so that I can continue to play the best possible way every week, and that includes training. I've always felt that you should train the way that you play and I don’t do anything half-hearted," O'Brien said.

"I've always had the approach that if I'm going to do anything I will give it my all and I will prepare the best that I can. Then if I get that right then my performances on game day should naturally flow on from that. 

"But I'm happy with the balance I have at the moment and my work is fitting in well with my footy and my family. I make sure I have a good balance with each of those and the best thing about that is that work and my family help take my mind off footy so I don’t think too much about it. 

"That mental break is always as good as a physical one so having that balance in my life with work and my family has helped my football. My wife and kids have had the biggest impact in changing me and that's happened the last five or six years. 

"Having other things to focus on has been great and having a wife and two kids, and now a third soon has helped me take my mind off footy when I'm not playing or training."