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Sunday 17 December 2017

Roy O'Donovan hoping for move after photo mix-up ended Brunei dream

Former Black Cat O'Donovan hoping for move to USA or Australia following his Brunei axe

Chelsea's Michael Ballack (right) and Sunderland's Roy O'Donovan battle for the ball in 2008
Chelsea's Michael Ballack (right) and Sunderland's Roy O'Donovan battle for the ball in 2008

HE says he has fallen out of love with the grind of the English club scene, and former Sunderland man Roy O'Donovan could follow the path worn by players like Robbie Keane and Damien Duff and try his luck in Australia or the USA.

The 29-year-old, whose €500,000 move from Cork City to Sunderland in 2007 was a record deal for a League of Ireland club, is presently back home in his native Cork, assessing his options and checking his phone to see what offers come in after his promising career in far-off Brunei was ended due to a mix-up over the publication of a photograph and a claim that he'd signed for a rival club.

Since leaving Ireland for Roy Keane's Sunderland eight years ago, O'Donovan has played in all the divisions in England, had a spell in Scotland under Pat Fenlon and also lined out in Brunei in a side managed by former Blackburn boss Steve Kean, and the Cork native still has some wanderlust.

He's ruled out a return to Cork City - for now - and also seems more keen on a spell outside of Ireland and the UK so a jaunt to the US, Australia or India could come off.

"I'm just back in Cork at the the moment waiting to see what happens. I have had lots of people onto me asking if I'd consider a move there. There was a bit of interest from central Europe, there was the chance of something in Malta, clubs in Scotland and League One in England," O'Donovan told The Herald.

"But there is interest in America and Australia too so I might go that route. I had a good season in Brunei last year so the next move needs to be the right one for me. If I make the wrong move now, I could live to regret it. Hopefully, I can get something over the line in the next week. I have had offers for the summer to go to Australia or the Indian Super League, and that's something that really interests me, America is a good option too.

"The problem with Australia is that the clubs I have spoken to have their import slots for foreign players used up but they could have an opening in the summer. It's not easy to get to the MLS as you have so many hurdles to clear," says the former B cap, unused to life back in Ireland.

"Yeah, I'm back home in Cork now, living with the in-laws, I'm technically unemployed and this is the first time I have been out of employment since I was 15," says O'Donovan, who spurned an offer from Fulham to join Sunderland in 2007 and made 17 Premier League appearances in his first season.

"I had offers only on Monday to go back to League One but I said no as it didn't feel right. When you're in England and things are going well, you are playing every week, it's great, but if I end up playing out of position or just be on the bench, I know I won't be happy.

"I love football but it has to be the right style of play for me to do well and that can be hard to get in the lower leagues in England. Playing in the Championship would be great but the English scene is a real cattle market now with so many players out of work."

O'Donovan had planned to spend 2015 back in Brunei, as he'd been offered a new contract, but he was effectively sacked by the club's owner - over a photograph. His agent - and former Cork City team-mate - George O'Callaghan had arranged for O'Donovan's move to Brunei in the first place. In recent months O'Callaghan took up a new post, as general manager of Sabah, a club in Malaysia, and invited O'Donovan out for a visit.

"What happened was that when I was out there one of the club's drivers took a photo of me with George, someone put it up on their website that I had signed for them, and that was it for me, even though I hadn't signed at all," says O'Donovan.

"The crown prince of Brunei, who runs the club, had his nose out of joint and the contract offer was withdrawn. Since then George has been sacked by the club in Malaysia so it was clearly the right thing to do, not to go there in the first place."

Until then Brunei was a great experience. "I was playing under a really good coach in Steve Kean and I was enjoying my football, I was top assist-maker in the league as well as scoring 27 goals, it's a good standard of football out there," he says.

"You played in front of 15,000 people, the crown prince watching, and I loved the way of life out there.

"But things didn't end as I had planned. There was nothing untoward about what I did, but because of the rivalry between the two clubs it was taken badly when the photo appeared of me on their website saying I was their new signing."

excited

So he's back home for now but O'Donovan, who starred for Cork City alongside future Ireland stars like Kevin Doyle and Shane Long, has ruled out a return to the league here, even though some Cork City fans will be excited to know that he has trained with the club.

"I went training with City yesterday, John Caulfield knew I was home and he asked me up to train," says O'Donovan.

"I told him that Cork City is and always will be close to my heart but I wasn't ready to come home yet, I still had things I wanted to do abroad. I was worried that me training with them could be a distraction for the club but John was fine about it, and I enjoyed training with them. But I don't see myself signing for City at this point in time."

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