There’s an old saying around these parts, a saying that rings true so often –
“Once a Celt, always a Celt”.
When a player pulls on those famous Hoops and gives us their all we take them into our hearts and more often than not this feeling is reciprocated. This rapport stays long after a player has left Celtic Park and you always find that former players like to keep up with Celtic and fans like to see how former players are getting on.
Which brings us to our interview today with Darren O’Dea. A bhoy who came through the ranks at Celtic under the tutelage of men like Danny McGrain and Tommy Burns.
Darren came over from Ireland to join Celtic at a very young age, where he learned his trade and made his way through the Celtic youth system, which would ultimately see him get into the first team under then manager Gordon Strachan.
The Irishman admits he found it hard to sit on the bench when fulfilling his first team duties but made most of the opportunities when they came his way. His finest hour in a Celtic jersey no doubt was the day his extra time header sent Celtic on their way to a League Cup Final victory over their old rivals Rangers.
He also got a call up to the Ireland squad while at Celtic and has managed 19 caps to date, working under Giovanni Trappatoni who Darren holds in very high regard. In February 2012 O’Dea won the Ireland Young International Player Of The Year Award . Recognising his excellent form for the national side.
Some fans will think he has been away longer but Darren only left the club permanently last summer when his three year contract came to an end. He had spent the best part of two seasons out on loan to Reading, Ipswich and then Leeds. There was an amicable parting of the ways between O’Dea and Celtic. The defender thankful that the club didn’t take up the extra year extension to his contract so he could go find a permanent club and seek first team football.
In August 2012 he signed on at Toronto FC who play in the MLS. A move that seen him and his young family uprooted to Canada. He thoroughly enjoyed his time there and even became stand in captain in his short time with the club. In July 2013 he left the MLS side in search of a fresh challenge
It wasn’t long before the 26 year old got a new club when Ukrainan side Metalhurh Donetsk came calling for his services. Darren penned a 3 year deal with the club after being impressed by the set-up and ambition of the Ukranian outfit. He’s even managed to get on the score sheet for his new club already, bagging a goal in a 2-1 victory over Vorskla Poltava.
CeltsAreHere.com caught up with Darren at the weekend to pick his brains on his time at Celtic and his career so far–
Who was your biggest influence while you were learning your trade at Celtic?
I had so many to be honest! Jim McInally and Willy McStay were my coaches at the start and were always very positive and helped me greatly. Then when I progressed through to the reserves It was Kenny McDowall and Danny McGrain! It was a lot more cut throat with them as it was time you got ready for the pressures of the first team and they would be very tough at times but were also absolutely essential for me! They really emphasised the difference between youth team and first team!
Then a massive influence was obviously Gordon Strachan! A fantastic coach and the manager I’ve learned the most from! I’ll always have a massive amount of gratitude for what he did for me.
Then obviously number 1 was Tommy Burns. In terms of a coach he was incredible. Wanted to play the right way and would be always very encouraging to play football. But was also SO very demanding! He loved football and wanted 100% every day! When he used to take sessions in the morning there was always a joke of someone shouting “better turn on the flood lights” because Tommy would never want to leave the pitch. He was so infectious in that way! A true inspiration.!
As a man he was even better. For me leaving home I had a few problems as you can imagine as a 15/16 year old would have! The thing with Tommy was he could pass you in the corridor and say 1 sentence to you and it would lift you instantly. Although other times even though he’d be so busy he’d always find time for you! He was just a phenomenal man!
What’s your best memory in a Celtic jersey?
I have 3 that always come to mind. My Champions League debut away in Copenhagen. When we trained TB would always say it was to be Champions League players, not SPL!
Another was my first goal against Dundee Utd. We were 2-0 down at home and I got the first and eventually we equalised! (Naka scored that amazing chip). Id only played a few games but really felt part of the first team after that.
And last is obviously my goal in the cup final. Speaks for itself and was even more special to share it with Aiden (McGeady) who’s one of my best mates!
Do you have any regrets about your time at Parkhead?
No regrets! Only thing I would change is my patience! I never was able to sit on a bench. Even though I was young I couldn’t sit still. I would pester the manager to play or go on loan all the time!
How did the MLS compare to other leagues you have played in?
Can’t speak more highly of the MLS! So underrated in Britain/Europe. I loved every minute of it. To compare is tough! I’d say more teams try to play from the back in MLS where in the Scottish Premiership or English Championship you come up against fantastic players but it can be 100mile an hour from start to finish.
Did you enjoy your time in Canada?
100% loved it! I’ve even said I’d love to go back one day! In football you never know! My family loved it as well which helped!
Are you looking forward to a new challenge with Metalurh Donetsk?
Yes I really am! I’ve been here 2months and it’ll take some time to really get used to everything. It’s really opened up my eyes though! The team we have here is fantastic. The standard took me back at first! I wasn’t expecting it to be so strong! I’m really excited about it and hopefully I can have a successful time here!
What are your thoughts on Giovanni Trapattoni leaving the Rep. Of Ireland post and his potential replacement being old Celtic boss Martin O’Neill?
It was very disappointing that Trapattoni left and I’ll be forever grateful to him for the opportunities I got from him! I really enjoyed working with him and was an honour to be managed by such a footballing great!
As for Martin O’Neill it’s hard to talk about until it happens. But it’s quite obvious how good of an appointment it would be and I’d love the opportunity to hopefully play for him. We’ll wait and see.
Do you still try and keep up with Celtic when you can?
Yes, all the time. I follow everything really. I’ve had my problems watching games with time difference but I’ve always managed to find a way! It’s great to see the club doing so well!
How do you rate the current team and the job Neil Lennon is doing?
I think he’s doing a fantastic job! It’s obvious he is. The club is winning leagues, cups and competing in the Champions League! And obviously progressed last year into the last 16. So it’s very good times for the club at the minute and credit to everyone there!
Have you been back to Celtic Park as a fan?
Never! When I was in the Championship it was very hard as games run mostly the same days. With the MLS season I was off in December last year but never managed to get to one! I’ll be off again this December for our winter break and will try get to a few games! It’d be a strange feeling going back I think!
Who is the best manager you have played under?
Gordon Strachan! Taught me so much and obviously progressed me as a player. I’ve been lucky though. Even though Reading struggled when I was there Brendan Rodgers was fantastic! It’s no surprise to me how he’s got to where he is now. I enjoyed working for Roy Keane as well and also Ryan Nelson at Toronto! I think he’ll do very well in management!
In a heartbeat!
Any last words to the Celtic support?
Just that I loved every minute I had there and always gave my best! Always appreciated what it meant to play for Celtic!
You can keep up to date with Darren’s progress at Metalurh Donetsk Official website – http://metallurg.donetsk.ua/en/
You can also follow him on twitter – @odea_darren
CeltsAreHere wish him all the best with his new club and hope he can be a success.
Hail Hail Darren O’Dea!