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Carrigaline roots flourishing in Glasgow

Thursday, 19th April, 2018 9:36am

On Saturday 10 March, solid stopper Paul O’Brien stepped onto the Dalziel Park artificial turf in North Lanarkshire, Scotland, looked around, breathed in the crisp air, set himself up, then made his debut for non-league side Thorniewood United, under old hand James 'Cotter' McKenna. He played out the full game in a 4-1 win over Lanark United.

It may have been a friendly, but with their away match with Neilston postponed due to the weather, this was a godsend to get the 32 year old from Carrigaline some game time under his belt and integrate with the squad. Scottish non-league football is tough, especially in the lower leagues where Thorniewood reside - the Central District First Division.

It’s mud and glory with determined committees making sure they keep the wolves away from the door, while trying to provide value for money and get folks through the gates. Yet, on the other hand, it’s a game that needs a massive overhaul if it’s to drag itself into the 21st century and not be left behind with the dinosaurs.

Despite signing on with Ashfield at the start of the season and hitting the floor running, Paul had recently been out of the picture with broken ribs, but now he’s found himself with a familiar figure and on a short-term contract at the Viewpark Stadium where his expertise is needed.

Although it was touch-and-go whether the move would go through but the softly spoken defender, who used to glance across the changing rooms at future Irish internationals, was pleased with the decision when it finally did. Sometimes, you’ve got to backwards to move forwards and O’Brien fondly recalls his footballing roots back in the home country with the team he started with, and has created some of Ireland past and future stars of football.

He recounts: “I started off my career with Carrigaline United from the southside of Cork and now they are a club that’s really on the up and I was there from under 8s to under 16s and won a few trophies there.

“It’s with them I represented Cork Schoolboys League team and Munster Schools, and from the under 16s I had a short stint at Cobh Ramblers, and I actually was fortunate enough to make it to the first team with them. I was fortunate enough to be contacted by Cork City to join the under 17s set-up there and played in the youths, I started with the 21s and likes of Shane Long and Kevin Doyle where all in the same team as us."

O'Brien continues: “Eventually, I was offered (the chance) to go to UCC to play in the Munster Senior League and gained a scholarship and I left Cork City, and I often think what could’ve been but I think everyone that plays football thinks like that. I could’ve easily just stayed in Ireland and been unemployed but spent two seasons at UCC and got my degree in economics and geography then we went on a tour of America.

“There were scouts at the Collingwood Cup, and with that I was approached by an American side called the San Francisco Seals, so I went over for four months and combined travelling with football in 2006.

I also played at Avondale United and worked under now Cork City manager John Caulfield who has them playing top quality football and maybe, I didn’t have the impact I thought.

“So I spent a year at Avondale and we won the Munster Senior League Premier Division, which is the equivalent of Scottish non-league football, so it’s a really decent standard.”

O’Brien’s semi-pro, university and amateur football journeys, have taken him from his home in Cork to the west coast of America, Edinburgh and the largest city in Scotland, Glasgow, where he resides in the east end of the city and now calls home.

He’s been there for nearly a decade and has set down some roots; he’s got a steady job and is planning on marrying a Scottish girl in the summer after a massive ‘stag do’ in Malaga, of course.

But it’s Govan-based cult side Saint Anthony’s (Ants) where he’s made his name after a stint in the amateurs. “I had a few years at the Ants and was fortunate enough to get Players’ Player of The Year (2015-16)," he says.

O'Brien has adapted to life in Scotland: “I love the Ants, it’s a fantastic club with brilliant people but I’m a bit of a weirdo as I may be Irish, but it’s my identity and I like to pave my own way, as I now live in Scotland and my partner is Scottish and my life is always going to be here.

“I still root for Ireland when we win at the rugby and qualify for tournaments but I try to develop and get more of Scotland into me and be a well-balanced person."

Although being with Thorniewood United in the short-term, the Irishman has his eyes set on helping develop the next generation of stars as he looks beyond his playing shelf life and for a pair of comfy Copa Mundial’s in the dugout.

He reflects: “I’m feeling fit and looking to get another three or four years out of non-league football and then think about going for coaching badges as I’ve got an eye on the future, as you’re only one injury away from a career-breaker.

“I’d like to have my C Licence next year then push on with the B, but I need to research it and see but I want to stay in football once I retire and try to give back to the game from what I’ve taken out of it over the years.

“It’s been a great journey so far and it’s been great and hopefully there’s a few more years left in the tank.”

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