herald

Monday 20 August 2018

british club is my goal

O'Dea targets UK side and Irish spot after leaving Ukraine conflict behind

HIS UKRAINIAN lesson has ended ahead of schedule as an unexpected conflict intervened, but Darren O'Dea says he has no regrets about his move to Eastern Europe.

And as Ireland are involved in another week of international battles this week against Oman and Georgia, the defender admits that he cannot expect to waltz back into the Irish squad and add to his tally of 20 caps - but has to get his club career sorted before he can resume duty at international level.

O'Dea should now be settled in for his second season of a three-year contract with Metalurh Donetsk but instead the 27-year-old is back at his family base in Scotland, having severed his ties with the club last weekend.

A number of factors came into play to force O'Dea to seek an exit of schedule. The worsening political and military situation in Ukraine, and Donetsk in particular; the fact that his club cannot play matches or even train in their home city due to the violence there; a request from the club for players to take a 50pc paycut to account for the club's loss of income from no home gates; the fact that there is no end in sight to a conflict in Ukraine, which could develop into all-our war; and for O'Dea, the pain of having to live withouthis wife and child close by.

Struggles

"I have no regrets as this has been a great experience. There have been struggles and hard times since I came out here but I think that will make me grow as a person. I will have some good stories to tell the grandchildren," O'Dea told The Herald.

"I am a better player and a stronger person from having been in Ukraine and I have left the club there on good terms. I left as a friend of the club. But I just couldn't have stayed out there any longer."

Family was one of the main reasons why the Dubliner walked away from his contract. Due to the instability in Donetsk, it was not safe for his wife and daughter to spend time there so they remained in Scotland while O'Dea worked away in a trouble zone.

"The family situation was also very difficult, and has been for the last six months as it wasn't really safe for my family to come out here. It's no-one's fault - not mine, not the club - but just the circumstances where I have to go.

"I could never have expected this when I came to Ukraine from Toronto. How could you have predicted a war?" asks O'Dea, who managed some time with his family as he had a spell in England over the summer, when he had an operation on an ankle injury and then did part of his rehab at former club Celtic.

"I was home for two months and it was a wake-up call in terms of what I was missing with my daughter and me being away from my family, what she is missing out on - as my wife has essentially been a single mother for the last six months as I've been in Ukraine and they've been back in Scotland. Family is important and I am missing out on a lot," he admits.

Amid all that, his club were not even based in Donetsk any more, playing their home matches in Kyiv (350 miles away) and training in another city. "The team were based in a place an hour outside of Kyiv. You try and make the best of it but it's no way ideal. We had basically been in a holiday resort, it's fine if you came here for a week but you couldn't stay somewhere like that long-term.

"It was a very simple conversation with the club. They wanted me to stay but I said I needed to leave, I said it was best for me and my family. I couldn't stay on with the way things are. If we were told that the situation would last for six or eight weeks you could accept it and do it but no-one knows how long this crisis will go on, it could go on for months or years."

Restriction

He secured his exit before the transfer window closed so O'Dea is a free agent and can sign for a club without any restriction - though he has to get fit first after that ankle problem and is still a month away from fitness.

"I have a clear goal in my head now, to play in Britain and get back into the limelight," he says.

"I have had an injury for the last while so I need to get that cleared up but I have been humbled by the amount of people who were willing to help me, like Celtic, and the FAI doctor, Alan Byrne.

"Playing for Ireland has always been a massive honour for me and I did appreciate it when I did it, but it's only when it's taken away that you really appreciate it.

"So I can't expect to be back in the Ireland team but I'd like to be in a place where I can be considered for the Irish squad."

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