On the fourth episode of LOI Arena, Joey O’Brien discussed life in the Premier League, the importance of faith in his career and how he finds playing in the League of Ireland for Shamrock Rovers.
LOI Arena is the new podcast about the League of Ireland and Irish football from Con Murphy, Conan Byrne and Pundit Arena.
This week’s guest was Shamrock Rovers and former Republic of Ireland defender Joey O’Brien. The Dubliner played in the Premier League for both Bolton Wanderers and West Ham over the course of twelve years before returning home in 2018.
O’Brien played against some of the very best players in the world in England’s top flight and earned five caps for the Republic of Ireland between 2006 and 2012. Now 35 years of age, he is one of the most experienced players in the domestic game and took time to recall what it was like coming against such superstars in his Premier League days.
Joey O’Brien on playing in the Premier League.
“I suppose at that time I would have grown up, like anyone I suppose as a kid, looking at Match of the Day and looking at these players. The players I first came up came against at the start were players only a couple of years earlier you were watching in your house with your brother,” the Rovers man told Con and Conan.
“Them sort of players, the likes of Alan Shearer – I would have loved Alan Shearer so playing against him, Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry – they were top drawer. Then once you get into it, once you’re over there a few years it is the job. You’re coming up against these guys and it’s about stopping them and trying to impose yourself on them.
“I suppose later on, that United team when I was over there with a front three of Ronaldo, Rooney and Tevez was top drawer too so you had your hands full on them days.”
The Shamrock Rovers veteran has seen it all at the top of the professional game, so when he committed himself to the League of Ireland he was always likely to pass on some of his experience and advice.
In 2019 another talented Dubliner, Jack Byrne, also returned home from the UK. Midfielder Byrne excelled both at Manchester City underage level and out on loan in the Netherlands, but had at that stage lost his way in the lower leagues of England and Scotland.
Byrne turned out to be a huge success in the League of Ireland where he won the PFAI Players’ Player of the Year two seasons in a row and has since represented his country four times at senior level.
Joey O’Brien on Jack Byrne.
However, the early days of his Rovers career weren’t so promising and O’Brien felt the need to step in and have a word to guide him in the right direction.
“I was at a different age than Jack coming back. I was coming back for my wife and kids, I knew in my career I’d had a right good crack at it over there [in England]. I was coming back and I really wanted to be a player for Shamrock Rovers and finish up at this football club.
“I think with Jack at the time, he came back and he was young obviously, he’s still a young kid like and he was very young but I think there was a thing about him maybe that he felt it was a stepping stone to get back to bigger things. In that way he wasn’t probably buying into the whole group and why we were there.
Joey O’Brien’s chat with Jack Byrne.
“I just had a word with him that ‘listen, this is it now. This is where it’s at. You’re here for a reason whether you want to be here or don’t want to be here, this is it. There are lads here that have dedicated their lives to League of Ireland football and they take it as serious, or way more serious, than what you might have been taking your career over there. So, don’t be coming over here now and take the piss and think you’re better than them.’
“It was just that kind of thing and, to be fair to Jack, he took it well and obviously then he went on. I don’t know if what I said had any effect on him but he was able to go on then and it probably just gave him a little bit of a check and made him think ‘jeez alright fair enough’.
“I was an older player so I probably had the authority to say it to him you know and he was a superb player for us for the couple of years that he was there.
“You can see the talent and that was never in question. I think he knew, he got to an age where he had been around the clubs. He went over to City as a kid and all that but that was in the past. When you bounce around so many clubs at such a young age there’s a reason for it. It can’t just be down to managers when you have that many in that short a time.
“I think he came back and found an environment that he really loved. At home in Dublin, around his family, around his fans, the manager and the staff of the football club and then obviously the lads. He had a lot in common with the lads in our dressing room, around the same age and stuff like that so I think he really really enjoyed it and you could see that in his performances for the club.”
LOI Arena is the new home for great League of Ireland discussion. Each week Con and Conan will take to the mic to analyse the highs and lows from the Greatest League in the World. The lads are joined by great guests each week who share a passion for all things LOI and Irish Football.
The podcast will form part of a new membership offering from Pundit Arena that focuses on Irish soccer fans for just €3.99 per month, less than a euro per week.
Fans can sign up at https://punditarena.com/loiarena.