All of a sudden we were told that money troubles had arrived - Ger O'BrienThu, May 03 2018
From boyhood fan to assistant manager, Ger O’Brien’s association with St Patrick’s Athletic also saw him become club captain and win major domestic trophies ... The aforementioned successes arriving second time around, as Ger explains to ExtraTime.ie
Beginning his youth career at Cherry Orchard, O’Brien joined the Inchicore side’s underage set-up, progressing to the senior ranks in 2003. That season, the rookie defender went on loan to Athlone Town, prior to a two-year stint with Kildare County.
“Back then, there weren’t many younger players breaking into top sides, so I went to Athlone and featured in all 33 matches … That experience stood to me. The following year, Eric Hannigan told me that I’d be in the Kildare first eleven and it wasn’t too far away from me. It was an opportunity to get more games under my belt and better than sitting on St Pat’s bench or not involved with the first team at all.”
Upon leaving Kildare, Ger signed for Shamrock Rovers, assisting the relegated Tallaght outfit to capture the 2016 First Division during his maiden season: “Rovers in the First Division was a big deal because of their standards. The fans had taken control and Pat Scully assembled a talented squad … Expectations were huge. Pat’s pre-season interviews had him saying that anything other than promotion was a failure and that put pressure on us, but we rose to the challenge. If you don’t bounce straight back up, it can get difficult and Rovers knew that. The new stadium was coming up as well and that was also vital.”
In 2009, the Dubliner, seeking pastures new, penned a three-year deal with Derry City, until financial woes curtailed his stay: “They paid a fee for me, so Stephen Kenny wanted me there for a long time. Things were going well … We were close to securing another European spot after that year’s run and all of a sudden we were told that money troubles had arrived. It snowballed from there and some of the things that went on was poor form … It left a sour taste. I was enjoying it and had every intention of seeing out my contract. I felt left down by the club after what unfolded. My time with Stephen was only regrettable due to not being able to stay longer.”
Sporting Fingal provided an initial link up with their manager Liam Buckley, but again, O’Brien’s contract was cancelled after the club ceased trading subsequent to the 2010 season: “We had a great year and some top players … I loved going into that dressing room every day. We then heard rumours about the club going to the wall and contracts to be terminated. When I got my letter saying as such, my wife had gone into labour. That day we had our first child and I lost my job, which was surreal. It was a pity because even though the club took time to get going off the pitch, the opposite was true on the playing side. A lot went on in the background, which we never got the correct story about. For it to happen to me twice was hard to take and made me focus more on coaching.”
Bohemians came calling in early 2011, as Ger joined a multitude of new players to represent the Gypsies: “They got knocked out of Europe and a lot was riding on it, financially. They went from a full-time club to part-time. Pat Fenlon was still there, but the calibre of player was different to what was there previously. He put together a decent squad, but it was a transitional period for the club … From going for titles to staying afloat. Then we didn’t know if Pat was going to Hibernian or not, but we still finished just above mid-table.”
Returning to the club O’Brien supported as a youngster, in 2012, also meant reuniting with Liam Buckley. The following year, the Saints clinched the Premier Division by beat reigning champions Sligo Rovers 2-0.
“It’s funny because we were in Sligo the year before, when they were going for the league. Coming off that pitch, I remember thinking we aren’t far off and so it proved. We were a tight-knit group and for a lot of us, it was our first time winning the big one. Without sounding over-confident, we did it in style, befitting a Liam Buckley team.”
2014 saw Ger manage Maynooth University to Collingwood Cup success, while the President’s Cup and Leinster Senior Cup presided at Inchicore, but paled in significance when Christy Fagan’s second goal against Derry ensured the FAI Cup, bridging a 53-year gap … And under Ger’s captaincy.
“It’s strange because if you ask any club, they would prefer to win a league, but St Pat’s have a special relationship with the cup. We always thought we were jinxed … The club has lost so many finals. The same group of players had lost one two years before, but this time there was a different build-up. It was like we were ready to remove the monkey off our back. People who’d been at the previous finals never thought St Pat’s would win the cup again. It’s the one day I can remember from start to finish. As captain, I consciously soaked it all in. The ball seemed to take an eternity to cross the goal line for Christy’s finish, leading to scenes, which wiped away all the heartache.”
Back-to-back League of Ireland Cups followed until O’Brien’s retirement in 2017, a move which coincided with him becoming Liam Buckley’s assistant to the present day: “I’m enjoying my role at the moment ... Having worked with Liam for so long as a player and seeing the good things he’s done. For me, it’s a learning curve and starting out on my apprenticeship. So far, things are much better this season and we want to compete at the right end of the table.”