Faith and football remain constants in Joey O'Brien's world

Nurtured in him by his parents, religion has always been part of the right-back’s life.

Faith and football remain constants in Joey O'Brien's world

Joey O’Brien will ramble out of the Shamrock Rovers’ team hotel tomorrow morning to find Mass ahead facing Dundalk in the FAI Cup final at the Aviva Stadium some hours later.

Nurtured in him by his parents, religion has always been part of the right-back’s life.

And amid the ‘universal religion’ that is football, being a devout Catholic is very much worn as a badge of pride by the former Republic of Ireland international.

“Yes, it’s a huge part of my life. I was there (at Mass) last night,” said O’Brien when speaking of his strong faith at Hoops’ Cup final press day on Monday.

It’s going to be there until the day I die. Football won’t be, but family will. It’s a massive part of my life.

“I was brought up with faith and I kept it going over there (during his time in England). I raise my own family in it now.

“It’s part of my life. To be honest, I couldn’t care what people thought, or if they ever felt awkward about me going to Mass.

“If someone had a problem with it, I’d have had a problem with them,” he adds when asked how it went down with managers and team-mates.

Just where exactly he may get mass tomorrow morning he’ll work out, having plenty of know how in finding churches on his travels over the years.

“I’ve had some experiences of churches around the world. Especially after games,” said Dubliner O’Brien recalling a particular case in point when at West Ham.

“I remember we played Newcastle. I found a church and the priest was Irish.

“I was sitting at the back of the church in a West Ham tracksuit before the game and they were all Newcastle fans.

“He was having a bit of banter on the altar regarding me. It was a funny moment.”

It’s closing in on two decades since O’Brien left Dublin for Bolton Wanderers at 15.

There was faith of another kind shown in him up through the ranks at the Reebok Stadium before manager Sam Allardyce brought him into a good Bolton side as a teenager.

“He gave me a first-team opportunity when I was 18 or 19,” explained O’Brien.

“At the time, Bolton were in a very strong position in the Premier League and it was difficult to get into the team so obviously he saw something in me that he liked as a player. Afterwards, I had a bad time with my knee and he gave me a chance again to go to West Ham.”

In stark contrast to where the club finds itself today, the Bolton of O’Brien’s time rubbed shoulders with the very best.

With particularly special memories of Europe.

Yes, some great times. When you look at the club now, it’s sad.

“My time at the club was …(a golden era?), yeah. We had two campaigns in Europe. We played Marseille, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid, Sporting Lisbon...and had some unbelievable nights. I still look back on the Sporting Lisbon game and feel we should have knocked them out (lost 2-1 on aggregate in the round of 16, having beaten Atletico).

“Atletico Madrid were very strong. Looking back at Bolton’s history it must be one of the best results that the club ever had, to knock a club like that out over two legs. Aguero was there, Forlan...”

O’Brien hopes further good memories can be made tomorrow when be plays for the first time at the Aviva Stadium.

“I actually played in the old Lansdowne. The new one, I’ve only sat on the bench,” said O’Brien, who had been given his Ireland debut in Steve Staunton’s first game in charge in 2006.

He got just five caps and expressed his frustration at being overlooked during Giovanni Trapattoni’s reign.

“There were times when I was playing regularly in the Premier League and I wasn’t even in the squad.

“It’s about opinions and at that time, my opinion was that I should have been in the squad and his opinion was that I shouldn’t. He was the manager, so that was that.”

That’s water under the bridge as O’Brien, 34 in February, is back home and happy both on and off the field with a Cup final to look forward — in which he’ll hope to keep Dundalk wing wizard Michael Duffy quiet.

He’s a good player. But I’ve played against good players for the best part of my career. So, we’ll see what happens in the game.

“It would be great. It will be a great occasion for the whole football club,” concludes O’Brien who grew up a Rovers fan and was just one year old when they last won the Cup.

“All my family and friends will be there. Rovers fans are dying for it. It’s about on the day. Finals are all about that. The break of the ball, a little bit of luck, a set-play or a bit of magic.

“Hopefully, the coin falls on our side.”

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