NEWCASTLE in New South Wales is a coastal, coal city a few hours north of Sydney.
The ongoing redevelopment work protrudes amongst the sprawling beaches and sleepy streets.
Newcastle Jets' Irish striker Roy O’Donovan points out the redevelopment as he drives past. This is his home and he is delighted to see it get the care it deserves.
The Cork native has just returned for his second stint with Newcastle Jets. At the end of the January transfer window, he bade farewell to Robbie Fowler’s Brisbane Roar and rejoined the club he had left at the end of last season.
His heavily laden car tells the tale of a man still in the midst of a move and with his family yet to join him.
O’Donovan is also applying for Australian citizenship. Not that he is complaining: His is a career that has carried him around the world. That brings an inevitable comfort with chaos.
He started in Ireland before following the well-worn path to England.
There was a successful return and then a move back to the UK.
He eventually swapped Scotland for Brunei before a brief stint in Indonesia.
Recent years have been spent following Australia’s coastline.
The transfer back to the Jets came after he found himself without a starting spot under Fowler.
This was despite a bright start that saw the experienced striker score six goals in his first 10 games.
“I’m still their top scorer,” he explains. “But it was the style of football he wants to play moving forward. For me to enjoy my football, it needs to be high energy. Getting on the ball or in behind on the end of chances.
“Robbie wants a lot of build-up play. Possession, safe and secure. That is not to say I can’t adapt but I am more comfortable playing a game that is on the front foot.
“The thing is at 34, you have limited time. I want to maximise it.”
Style of play was the reason he left the UK in the first place.
Having enjoyed stints in the Premier League and Championship, his final season was spent in League Two.
There it was less about skill and more about steel.
“In England, I often ended up as a right-winger because it was that bit more direct. It is more ‘get it up to the target man’. I’m a slighter build so I ended up out wide. Over here, it is about getting the ball down and playing.
“I think as you move down the leagues in the UK, it is about being very fit. Survival of the fittest. It is such a results business.
“Even though there are good players in training, matchday they take no risks. Play in their half. Press. Harry. Keep the ball away from our goal.
“I think the football suffers because of that. That won’t suit certain Irish players. I look at someone like Jack Byrne, a technical player. The league at home suits him much more. Shamrock Rovers take the ball to grass and want to play. It has worked wonders for his career.”
O’Donovan’s first step was as a 15-year old when he joined Coventry City.
There had been some interest from France yet eventually the Premier League club made their move and O’Donovan joined as a trainee.
He pauses briefly before recalling his initial experience of that city. There was a Premier League clash versus Everton that he watched with his parents. Afterwards, they returned to Cork and he moved from a hotel to digs.
The following weekend there was no game. The senior squad were away and thus that weekend was his first opportunity to stop and take it all in. As he sat there alone, a new emotion washed over him; that was the first time Roy O’Donovan ever felt homesick.
“When you are 15 you are so confident. ‘I am going to make it. I’ll be in the first team by 16!’ Yet there is always that 1% of doubt in your mind. ‘Jesus, will this last beyond a year? Will it last as a career?”
At the age of 19 he left the club and returned home. Superb showings in the League of Ireland followed.
“That is where that Corkness kicks in. Get stuck in, just be the best you can be. If that gets you to 25, 35, whatever. Keep going every day until you can’t anymore.”
Corkness. A phrase much discussed after it cropped up in a GAA county board’s report last year. Its force is embodied in attitude and aptitude.
“I think there is something in you. There is that northside thing where you always have a little chip on your shoulder. A point to prove.
“We are known for being opinionated, strong characters. Roy Keane is the stereotype but if you go to Cork you will meet a hundred Roy Keanes.
“They don’t care. It is their opinion and no-one else’s. A superiority complex nearly. There is something about being from Cork, forging your own path I suppose. I have that. I brought it with me. It has been a blessing and a curse.
“It still follows me to a certain degree; I can play up to that stereotype as well. I can lose that technical side sometimes and you get involved in something. Then it is ‘ah, the Irishman losses his temper once again.’ There is a little bit of that in you, for sure. You just have to channel it.”
THE Rebel county remains close to his heart and he makes sure to get back for six weeks every off-season. At the same time, he has a future Down Under.
O’Donovan has already begun his coaching badges in a bid to stay involved in football after retirement.
The sheer variety of coaches he has already worked with ensures he already knows a thing or two about how it should, and should not, be done.
The list of previous bosses includes Craig Levein, Mark Robins, Roy Keane, Robbie Fowler and now former Premier League midfielder Carl Robinson.
The Welsh international recently took the mantle at Newcastle and O’Donovan has been impressed so far. Combined with the return to fitness of fellow Irishman Wes Hoolahan, he is confident the club can turn around fortunes that currently see them bottom of the A-League.
As for the coaching career, there is no rush on that front, but it helps to learn as you go.
“You can pick up little bits from everybody. You can learn a lot from some of the worst coaches you played under and from the best coaches. I still think being a manager is 80% about how you manage people. Getting on their wavelength and understanding them. You don’t need to flog people all the time with negativity.
“At the top of the tree, there needs to be a guy who has a calm head and can see the bigger picture. That’s the same for any industry.”
Life is the best teacher and O’Donovan’s career means he is a top student.
“I have learnt it the hard way. By taking the setbacks. I suppose, somewhere down the line there has always been a belief that it will work out. The mental side is so important.
“I mean the physical stuff, that is something you can work on. Once you are in the team, you are doing it naturally and your diet gets better as you get older, but mentality is 90% of it. You have to want to win. You have to want to get better.
“The day that stops happening, that is the day my career is over.”
The heavy accent pierces through as that sentence is uttered.
Corkness will drive him on for a while yet.