Article by Kieran Burke – @KieranBTS
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Shamrock Rovers have continued the clubs recent trend of signing former Republic of Ireland internationals with the arrival of former West Ham United star Joey O’Brien. The thirty-one-year-old, who has not had a club since departing the Londoners in June 2016, made five appearances in the Green of Ireland between 2006 and 2012 but was not a member of Giovanni Trapattoni’s European Championship squad.
A graduate of Bolton Wanderers youth system, O’Brien signed his first professional contract for Sam Allardyce’s Wanderers and went on to make fifty appearances for Bolton from 2004-2011. Initially starting out as a central midfield player, the Dublin native soon became a regular at right-back for current Everton boss Allardyce, who described O’Brien as the “most dominant right-back in the Premiership.”
However, in what would soon become a reoccurring theme throughout the defenders career, injuries were starting to restrict O’Brien’s game time and following a loan spell away from Bolton with Sheffield United, O’Brien was released upon his return to the Lancashire club.
Despite that set back, O’Brien had done enough to encourage Premier League interest in his signature and following a trial with West Ham United he put pen-to-paper on a two-year contract at Upton Park. Going on to feature ninety-one times from 2011-2016 for the “Hammers”, O’Brien was a member of the West Ham side that defeated Blackpool in the Championship play-off final at Wembley in the 2011-12 season.
As a result, O’Brien would earn a first Ireland call-up in over four-years in August 2012, as the Dubliner replaced the stricken Sean St.Ledger for a home friendly against Serbia. This would prove to be O’Brien’s last recognition at international level.
Speaking to Shamrockrovers.ie, O’Brien revealed his allegiance as a “Hoops” supporter and stated his move back to Ireland as the key reason for signing with the Tallaght club.
“I’m buzzing to be here and get going. It happened over a short period of time, I made contact with the club and luckily it got over the line. I was moving back home with my family so it was a logical thing, I support Shamrock Rovers.
I’m a Rovers fan and I wanted to get playing and come back here. This is the place to be. Last season I was at Rovers games and I’ve watched them a few times.
I’ll speak to the manager and get to know the players. It’s about becoming part of the squad, I definitely bring the age up! I like to think I’ve been around a while and have good experience of playing at certain levels. Hopefully the way I go about training and off the pitch as well, some of the younger lads can learn from working with me.
It was fantastic at West Ham, apart from the last year where it didn’t work out for me. But that’s what happens. Then I was up at Bolton , I still have contacts there from when I started. It was just a nice fit at the time to try and get fit. I played a couple of games but competitively is what it’s all about, it’s been a while since I played in matches. I’ve put in a lot of hours into getting to this situation. Hopefully now I’ll go to Portugal (for the Atlantic Cup) and get a good bit of training in before the season starts.
Coming back to play in Ireland was always on the radar, even going back five or six years, if I could have played for Rovers that was always the thing. It’s worked out that way now. The coaching side of things appeals to me but not yet, in a few years maybe. Initially it’s about playing. When I spoke to Stephen that’s what I wanted to put across. I’ve been to Rovers-Bohs games over the years as a supporter in the Rovers end so it’ll be nice to be out there playing.”
Clearly delighted upon the capture of his new star, Rovers boss Stephen Bradley did admit O’Brien’s injuries in the past as a concern when also speaking to the clubs official website.
“He’s a great signing for us. I believe Joey and his family have been Rovers fans all their lives, so it was an easy sell when he got in contact a few months back. We sat down and had a chat and he trained with us for a while before he had to go back to England to do a few things. When he made the phone call to say he wanted to get it done it was great for both of us.
He’s been getting to know us and vice versa. I think he brings a great experience to the squad. He’s played at such a high level throughout his career. With the group we have, he’s just the right character and right quality. You see at Roadstone the whole club is based there. So the Under 8’s will see the first team and I think it’s great when they come in and see the likes of Joey walking around and they can meet him and get to know him.
Any player we’ve signed this year we’ve been thinking can he play in two or three positions. We haven’t nailed down anyone in certain positions. Everyone can see how good Ethan Boyle is so bringing in Joey will only help the likes of Ethan and the centre-backs, because Joey can play there or midfield as well. That was part of the reason of why he appealed to us, he can cover a lot of areas.
We’re all well aware of Joey’s history with injuries and Joey was very open and honest about it as well. We went into this with our eyes open. If we can get Joey on the pitch and look after him in training he’ll be a massive asset to the club, what he brings to the dressing room and the training pitch. It’s the whole package. He’s been through the mill in terms of games and injuries, we know that but we just have to manage him.
Coaching is something we spoke about with Joey but it’s very clear that he wants to play. I’d imagine at some point he will go down that road because he sees the game and understands the game. It’s a natural progression but right now he’s very clear and adamant that he wants to play games and he sees himself doing that for a few years. That was key in the conversation with Joey, that he’s here to play football and do nothing else. For me that showed a really strong focus to go back and enjoy playing his football.”
O’Brien follows in the footsteps of fellow former Ireland stars Damien Duff, Stephen McPhail and Keith Fahey who all ended their playing careers with Ireland’s most decorated football club.