Sunday 19 November 2017

O'Dea tackles critics of MLS

Darren O'Dea. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE
Darren O'Dea. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

WITH his move from Celtic to Canada, Ireland international Darren O'Dea has been accused of a long list of charges.

Showing a lack of ambition, putting money before real motivation, even damaging his career.

Former Leeds man Ian Harte was among those who threw barbs in the direction of O'Dea, the Dubliner who's now established in the MLS as captain of Toronto FC.

Annoyed at the exclusion of certain players from the Ireland set-up under Giovanni Trapattoni, Harte recently sniped: "The manager decides to go and pick someone like Darren O'Dea, who is playing in the American league."

That comment struck a chord with O'Dea to the extent that he sought out Harte for a chat, but O'Dea insists that there's no dispute between the pair and that he understands Harte's frustration.

For O'Dea, it's just another case of people jumping to conclusions and assuming the worst about the league across the Atlantic.

"I can't blame people for ignorance. It's only when you come out here and see it first-hand that you see how good it is," O'Dea told the Herald, the Dubliner on a high after captaining Toronto to an MLS win last weekend, his first league victory since he joined the club last year.

"A lot of those opinions are not based on facts, but if people who have a go at the MLS, who have a go at me for coming here, saw what it's like, I think they'd change their minds. Within five years or so, this will be seen as one of the top leagues, I firmly believe that," adds O'Dea, who goes on to explain his interaction with Harte.

"I spoke with Ian because I heard about what he said," O'Dea reveals. "We had a chat on the phone and there's no issue now, I think what he wanted to say didn't come across.



"He felt that there were players who were under the manager's nose and not getting a chance and if I was getting into the squad while playing in America, then players who were in the Premier League in England should be at least considered.

"He said he didn't mean anything personally towards me, and I can sympathise with Ian.

"If he feels aggrieved at not being in the Irish squad then that's his business and it's not for me to comment. If I'm performing for the manager and chosen for the squad then that's all that matters."

O'Dea is adamant that, while Toronto is a very pleasant place to work and live with his wife and child, he's not in the city for the fine restaurants and film festivals.

"Because you're playing in somewhere like Toronto or Seattle or New York, some people think you're here for a jolly, but we're not here for the sunshine. I am here to further my career," he says.

"Yes, the move was good from a family point of view, Toronto is a lovely place to live, but my main decision was a football one. I'd have gone to Kazakhstan if that had been the best move for my career."

And he points to the recent exports of MSL players to England's top flight, like Brek Shea (Stoke) and Kei Kamara (Norwich) as a sign of the high standard.

"I don't blame people for having a go at the MLS, I was quite ignorant before I came over," he says.

"The facilities are world class, apart from Manchester United I don't think any club in the English Premier League would match what the clubs have over here in the US and Canada."

For a while it seemed as if the move was turning into a nightmare as Toronto lost game after game, and O'Dea had to wait until his 11th league appearance for a win, but he was taking a long-term view.

"When I signed for the club last year, I was signing with this season in mind. Being honest, we weren't that great when I signed last year but it was a long-term thing for me. I knew we'd do better this season, and we had a good win last week.

"We got in Robbie Earnshaw, Hogan Ephraim, John Bostock, they've all played at a very high level in England and they've all made us better. Everything at the club is pointing upwards, we have new players, a new chairman and a new manager, so it's looking good."

O'Dea is also confident about his international prospects. Having failed to get game-time at Euro 2012, he came into the side just after, starting in four of the five internationals in the wake of our experience in Poland, though he opted to skip – with Trapattoni's permission – last month's friendly with the Poles to focus on his fitness with his club.

"I would never duck out of an international game just because it was a friendly. I'm not in the position to pick and choose my games for Ireland, I don't have that luxury," admits the Dubliner, hoping to win his 19th cap against Sweden.

"Even if I had been picked against Poland, I don't think I'd have done myself or the team justice. It didn't make sense for me to go.



"I had been training with Motherwell over the close season but I'd had no games. The Faroes was my last proper match, so to go from no game in three months into a match with Poland wasn't ideal."

Trapattoni is likely to start with a central defensive pairing of John O'Shea and Ciaran Clark, although O'Dea, Stephen Kelly and a fit-again Sean St Ledger also have claims.

"I always go over prepared to play. I want to play but so does every player in the squad, but I will be ready to play if the manager picks me. We have a massive period ahead of us, these are two pivotal games in the group," added O'Dea, unsure about the theory that Ireland should aim for a point in Sweden on Friday week.

"I've never gone into a game thinking that I'd take a point. If you go in with that attitude you are onto a loser, in my view.

"I won't go there hoping just to get a point but, being realistic, we'd take four points from the next two games as that would be a decent return, but the goal remains to win both games."

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