Darren O’Dea turned down big-money offers from eastern Europe because he was convinced a move to Canada would kickstart his international career.
O’Dea arrived at Celtic in 2005 from Irish team Home Farm with high expectations on his shoulders, but the 25-year-old failed to break in to the Bhoys’ first-team and was loaned to Leeds, Ipswich and Reading during a highly-frustrating seven-year spell.
His failure to hold down a regular place also meant he was unable to break into the national side despite being tipped for a long and successful career with Ireland.
This year the defender endured a miserable summer. He was released by Celtic and did not make it off the bench during Ireland’s dismal Euro 2012 campaign.
He said: “I felt drained. I didn’t want to look at football. It was the first time I had felt like that in my life.”
A few weeks later, however, a smile was back on O’Dea’s face. Toronto FC invited the player to watch one of their games at their BMO Field home and everything suddenly clicked in to place.
“I felt the buzz, I felt really excited. That was when I knew I wanted to play there,” O’Dea said. “About 4,000 agents were ringing me every day before that. I had offers from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, Greece, probably even Kazakhstan, but none of them inspired me.
“A couple of them were offering very, very good money, but that’s not why I started playing football. I knew I wanted to move to Toronto.”
O’Dea has made a big impression during his month with the Canadian club.
He has been instrumental in plugging the leakiest defence in Major League Soccer and Toronto are edging away from the foot of the Eastern Conference.
Former England international Paul Marriner, now in charge of the MLS franchise, has sung O’Dea’s praises loudly and as a result, the player has grown in confidence.
O’Dea’s reward for nailing down a regular place in club football will be his 15th international cap in Friday’s World Cup qualifier in Kazakhstan – something which he is delighted about after recent troubled times.
“The move has helped me. I’m more confident because I’m playing games,” O’Dea said. “I feel a lot stronger than I did before. Last year I was playing in Leeds and I was living in Glasgow. It was three hours’ drive every day, three or four times a week.
“I could barely move when I got out of the car when I got home. My family weren’t settled whatsoever.
“I have been chucked about a little bit recently. I knew I was leaving Celtic two and a half years ago, it’s just that my boots were still in the locker there.
“I knew it was time I settled down and I will certainly be able to do that at Toronto and I am looking forward to staying a few years there.”
While some may scoff at the standard of the game in North America, O’Dea insists the MLS is tough.
“It’s a lot better than people think,” O’Dea said. “It’s very similar to the Championship. You will have five or six players who are technically very good, and have a good knowledge of the game, and the rest are strong athletes, who are powerful and quick.
“The more you see of it the better it gets. The stadia, the facilities, they’re all fantastic.”
O’Dea will have to fight hard to retain his position in the Republic team for next month’s World Cup qualifier against Germany as Richard Dunne is expected to return from injury.
With Dunne, and retired duo Damien Duff and Shay Given absent from the squad for Friday’s game, O’Dea thinks this week is a huge chance for the likes of him and some of the younger players in the squad to impress.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity,” O’Dea said. “But we also have a responsibility now. Shay and Duff have carried us a lot. Now it’s time for other players to step up.”