Winning cup finals and clinching league titles to earn promotion to the topflight are normally standout moments for any footballer fortunate enough to achieve these feats throughout their career. However, in Brian O’Callaghan’s case, non-renewal of contracts and absence through injury are reasons why the aforementioned accomplishments are described as “bittersweet”.
At 17, Brian signed for Barnsley in 1998, staying at Oakwell for the first six seasons of his senior career. During this period, the South Yorkshire club were relegated to third tier and almost to the fourth of English football. In a previous interview, the Limerick native said that a “drinking culture” existed during his time with the Tykes.
“I was probably a bit naïve in saying that there was a drinking culture at the club,” was O’Callaghan’s view when extratime.ie caught up with the player recently. “Back in those days, that culture existed in the whole game. I don’t think Barnsley was any worse than other clubs in this regard.
"Young lads, being professional footballers, probably thought they could handle a night or two out during the week. Even at the top level, lads would be out Sunday to Tuesday. These days, players are a lot more professional than compared to 15 to 20 years ago. It’s just the way the game was … After Tuesday, you just got up and got on with it.”
A solitary season with Worksop Town was followed by a brief sojourn at Icelandic outfit Keflavik IF in mid-2005.
“One of my last managers at Barnsley, Gudjon Thordarson, is Icelandic. When I left Barnsley, I was playing non-league football and he kept in touch. He took the Keflavik job and asked if I wanted to go up. When I got there, he was after getting the Notts County job, so when I arrived, he was leaving.
"I stayed there for a month and then followed him to Notts County after that. It was a good experience and lovely place. The club wanted me to stay, as I’d started well for them, but I just wanted to get back.”
One year after the central defender’s arrival at Meadow Lane, he returned to Ireland, linking up with Cork City, where he picked up an FAI Cup winner’s medal in 2007 against an already relegated Longford Town in the final.
“I was at Cork for 18 months and really enjoyed my time there. The 2007 FAI Cup final was very bittersweet for myself. The club were in financial difficulties and I wasn’t getting my contract renewed, so even after winning the cup, I knew I was being left on the side and it was a difficult situation.
"When Alan Mathews took over, he wanted me back, so I turned up during pre-season, but another opportunity came up (joining Halifax Town) and I took that instead. Winning the FAI Cup with Cork and a great bunch of lads was fantastic.
"Damien Richardson was a good manager and got the best out of us. On the coaching side he didn’t do much, but he was a great man-manager.”
Subsequent to Halifax, O’Callaghan once more came back to Munster, but this time to local club Limerick. He was present at the time of the Shannonsiders earning a place in the topflight, as 2012 First Division champions under Pat Scully, ending their lengthy spell in the domestic second tier.
“Limerick had been in the First Division a really long time, so getting into the Premier Division was a massive achievement ... The coaching staff and manager done a great job. Pat O’Sullivan put a lot of money in at the time, but still the work had to be done.
"I didn’t play much that season because I was out for 12 months the year before. It was another bittersweet moment for me, having not really been involved. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the lads, having been out, but it was great for the city to get back up.”
The following season was Brian’s last in the League of Ireland and even though he holds a UEFA B Coaching badge, remains realistic about reappearing at this level as a coach.
“At the moment, I’m player/assistant manager with my local junior team Pike Rovers, in Limerick. We got to the FAI Junior Cup last season. Some of them are good enough for League of Ireland football, but whether they’ll get the opportunity or not, I’m not sure.
"As regards coaching, I started out with a local schoolboys club. Whether chances arise to get back into senior soccer, in the League of Ireland or elsewhere, I don’t know. It seems harder to get on the merry-go-round than get off it. The same jobs seem to go to the same people. Whether it’ll be worth it, I can’t say, but it would have to be somewhere I like and the right opportunity.”
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