O’Brien talked about the Eircom League and how positive it is that crowds are flocking back to the grounds.
“The pitches are better and this gives teams the platform to play the game the way it should be played,” he said. “With no games on TV during the summer, finally supporters are off the couch and coming to the games. Crowd participation makes that difference needed as the league goes in the right direction on improving our domestic game.”
The positive spin is important in football, as far as O’Brien is concerned.
“Bohs were not given enough credit after Rosenborg beat us 1-0 in the first leg of the Champions League,” he said. “I was disappointed with many a pundit and their comments after that defeat. Rosenborg scored on a set piece and we had a couple of chances in the second half. But what does get to me a little bit is that these pundits have not played at the highest level themselves. Their comments should be more thought out. I wanted to hear about the positive side of things from our experience in Europe. Rosenborg are a class side. In the return leg in Norway, when they scored in the late stages of the first half, it was over. In the second half we were totally outclassed, but we have learned a great deal and we never threw the towel in.”
The mood changed as O’Brien pondered on his words. He was relaxing but he there was still an edge to his comments. His passion for the game to improve was directed not at the players but at the various commentators and critics. If any assistant coach can understand players, then it’s O’Brien. He started at schoolboy level with Cambridge Boys FC under the guidance of Ringsend’s legendary coach, Leo McDonagh. The young O’Brien then moved on to Belvedere Boys before making it with Bohs and Rovers as a top League of Ireland player. He then left Ireland to play across the water for Manchester United, Newcastle United and Tranmere Rovers, while winning caps for his country with the famous Jack Charlton team. O’Brien continued playing when he returned home, signing for Cork City. At 37, he became the player-coach for Bohemians and had the perfect start in his new career – winning the double. Now in the space of three seasons, O’Brien has helped the Gypsies to two championship titles.
“We don’t have to prove anything after our loss to Rosenborg,” he said. “We are a good side. We beat Spurs in a preseason game — no big deal really, it was a friendly — but we also beat Bate in the CL. We have just returned from a 2-1 win over Drogheda United.
“I must admit we were lucky as we scored in the dying minutes. Drogheda is such a hard place to get a result; they fight like dogs when they have to. We are satisfied with the win. It’s going to be a very tight battle for the title because every team in the league is capable of beating you on their day. Waterford United has been a breath of fresh air for the league but I do not think they are title contenders. We are composed and relaxed at this point in the season. We do not feel we have to go out there and tear things up after our Champions League exit. We feel we are the best footballing team in the league, even though we had to dig in for this result against Drogheda.”
Bohs couldn’t afford anything less than a win in this game. The result takes them out of the relegation zone and into mid-table. They have taken 21 points out of a possible 42. Is the glass half empty or half full? However, as O’Brien points out, “We do have a couple of matches in hand.”
Shelbourne lead the league by 4 points and only 8 separate the top seven teams. A few wins on the trot are what Bohs need to show that they are ready to defend their title. Indeed another title for O’Brien will likely attract attention from other clubs in the league offering him the manager position, an offer he may not be able to refuse.
Recently newspaper reports suggested that Tranmere Rovers, where O’Brien played for six years, were interested in offering him a position. These opportunities come knocking on the door these days for assistants, as was the case with Real Madrid’s swiping of Carlos Queiroz from Manchester United. O’Brien was always interested in coaching and took his preliminary courses as a player. He now holds a FIFA “A” license. Just approaching his 40th birthday, he’s still a very young coach and manager.
O’Brien’s massive frame rose out of the armchair as he prepared to make the drive home to Kill, Co. Kildare, where he lives with his wife, Terry, and four children, Kelly, Lauren, Conor and Sean. As his mom walked through the room, she remarked, “You’re still here — what are you writing, his life story?” “Soccer Scene” got the total Irish package: a hospitable welcome to a witty departure.
A life story of football it has been already for Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien. It all started out with Liam, the eldest of four sons, making it across the water, and there is no sign of Liamo slowing down. Michael followed in the footsteps of his big brother when he signed for Luton as a professional. Declan played Leinster Senior football for Railway Union, TEK and Ashtown Villa.
As Liam left for Kildare, “Soccer Scene” sped to Ringsend Park to see the youngest, Thomas, playing for South Dock Railway FC in a preseason friendly. The newly formed club won its league last year and Thomas was named Player of the Year. Long may the O’Briens’ football story continue, whether it is in Dalymount Park, Ringsend Park or the playground around the corner called “the swings.” And on last Sunday, that’s where the O’Brien’s grandson, Jaime, was playing for Germany in a five-a-side — a fun day out for all the family, run by the locals.