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“Hunger has got to be there” insists O’Brien

Saints capatin with last years league trophy Photo: Ryan Nugent

Saints captain Ger O’Brien with last years league trophy
Photo: Ryan Nugent

League of Ireland champions, St Patrick’s Athletic, have gotten their season back on track, having initially found the going tough at first in the defence of their crown.

As expected when a team doesn’t seem to be realising its full potential, questions were asked. The best teams answer them.  Saint’s captain Ger O’Brien was always confident the side would come up with the answers, because if they didn’t, the manager would have no hesitation in pointing to the exit door.

“Is the hunger there? I think that’s a very fair question. It’s something I alluded to in pre-season and it has to be there if we want to be successful again. There has to be that determination and hunger or it won’t happen for us,” said O’Brien.

“There are so many points available from here until the end of the season. I’ve always said that the meat of the season is coming up now, from mid-May until the end of August. I think we won 12 games in that period last season.”

The experts of the game and the bookmakers believe that the Inchicore club are just too good not to be involved in this title race, a view that O’Brien concurs with.

“I think we have too good of a team not to be involved, but there’s an old saying that ‘paper teams win paper cups’,” admitted the full back.

This year has proved quite fruitful for the Clondalkin man, as he, alongside Saints goalkeeper Brendan Clarke, guided the NUI Maynooth soccer team to their first ever Collingwood Cup, the All Ireland for Universities and the dugout role is something O’Brien is relishing at the moment.

“Yeah I’m really enjoying it at the moment. It was great for the college and great to be involved in. I’ve done the Uefa A licence and pretty confident about getting good results back, so that’s as far as I can go while I’m still a player,” said O’Brien.

However, the enthusiastic manager vibe the 29 year old gives off is immediately replaced by cynicism for Ireland’s grass roots football system and the development of players from a young age.

Niall Quinn’s comments on the Second Captains in April about players needing an education before they go abroad to play football are echoed by the St Pat’s man, although he believes differing circumstances mean that the majority of teenagers being offered contracts at English clubs are going to jump at the opportunity.

“I’m working with the DDSL under 12’s at the moment and there’s some exceptional players there already. So you’ve got English clubs coming in looking to sign these players already and because they’re so young, the club have to bring their parents over too.

“If it’s the case where these clubs are offering families 70 or 80 grand to move over to England so their child can play football then it’s hard to turn down, especially in this day and age when there are a lot of families struggling for money, circumstances differ.

Over the past five years, there has been an increase in footballers taking the step from League of Ireland to the Premier League, all in their 20’s and possibly more equipped at that level than many Irish players that took the plunge at 15/16.

“You’d hope we could get them educated properly before they do go over to England. You’re looking at the ages of 15-17 which are pivotal, because then they can go with at least a Leaving Cert behind them – physically they’re ready to go, mentally they’re ready to go. It gives them a better chance to succeed themselves.

“Look at James McClean – I played with him at Derry. He definitely wasn’t ready for that standard at the time. Three years later, he was 100% ready to go. People ask why Seamus Coleman never got looked at by Ireland when he was with Sligo. He simply wasn’t near that level at the time. Sure when he went over to Everton, David Moyes didn’t trust him as a defender,” said O’Brien.

During the 80’s and in the 90’, Ireland’s international footballers were as a majority plying their trade with some of England’s biggest clubs, yet with an influx of players into the Premier League from all over the world and especially from countries with state of the art training facilities and high coaching standards, Ireland has been left trailing far behind.

In the first eight years of the Premier League, Ireland had two PFA Player of the Year award winners in Paul McGrath and Roy Keane, nowadays no Irish player looks even close to winning something so prestigious.

Yet why is that the case? And forgetting about Irish players playing Premier League, can a league of Ireland player play for the National Team?

“First hand I’m getting in players with the (FAI) Emerging Talent Programme at 15 years old. That’s too late. We need to be giving these ‘elite’ players the opportunity to be trained and coached at the key ages, which in my opinion are 11, 12 and 13.

“Look at the Netherlands for example; they’ve got the kids coming into train on three or four nights a week. Over here, clubs are training one hour a week on ¼ of an all-weather pitch. It’s no wonder we’re so far behind,” conveyed O’Brien.

And as a League of Ireland stalwart himself, O’Brien is unfortunately of the belief that fellow players in the league would not be at the level required to play for the Irish National side.

“If you’re asking me can a player from our league consistently get into the squad, then no, I don’t think so. International players are playing abroad day in day out with better players than our league has to offer and they’re playing at a much greater intensity and pace. The odd player might get into one squad, but that’s about it.

“You can’t expect a player to play League of Ireland one Friday and be capable of playing against Schweinsteiger a week later,” insisted O’Brien.

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