O'Brien has not retired, but he is now in a coaching role at St. Pats
Many questions still have to be answered this season, but one that might be occupying St. Patrick's Athletic supporters is will they ever see Ger O’Brien on the pitch again?
The full-back and now first team coach dropped into studio this week for a chat with us and reflecting on his playing future he said; "It’s hard to take the session and then take part in the session”. While not entirely certain if his playing days in League of Ireland football are done, O’Brien hasn’t ruled out a return if required.
We opened a wide ranging chat about his past, present and future with a straight forward question. "Are you done playing?" The 32-year-old was as honest as he could possibly be with his answer, as at this point it’s clear he’s not quite sure if he knows himself.
It does seem that he’s now more Ger O’Brien the coach than Ger O’Brien the player. "I came into the season thinking I might play on, but as pre-season went on and the season started, it’s looking like I won’t play".
The former Athlone Town, Kildare County, Sporting Final, Shamrock Rovers and Derry City defender admitted; “it’s difficult to do half a job here and there I need to do something properly. I’ve found it difficult doing bits and pieces training wise and then coaching as well as the underage stuff so I’ll have to make a decision soon".
Oisin Langan and Ger O'Brien
Still looking incredibly fit and sharp, O’Brien looks like a man who’s ready if called upon but he’s aware the longer he doesn’t play the less likely it is he’ll feature. When this point was put to him his coaching brain engaged.
"You might not put on weight but you do lose that sharpness and the mental capacity to prepare for a game. The selfishness is gone as this stage. It’s more about the team and winning if I was to go out and cause a goal that would sit worse with me than not playing at all."
That quote says a lot about Ger O'Brien who even this early in his coaching career is looking at what benefits the team rather that what’s best for him. He’s been coaching with Maynooth University but it’s only recently that he’s had to sit down and think about if he can balance full time coaching with playing. Whether it’s next week or next month you get the feeling, if needed, O’Brien could do a job but one thing is for sure he won’t be anything but honest with Liam Buckley about how ready he is.
So why go into coaching full-time now when by his own admission he could still play? "If I was to down tools in the coaching and do a mini pre-season I’d be fine. The word longevity is not used in the League of Ireland, I’m in a role now where I can get longevity out of it."
Ger O'Brien captained St. Patrick's Athletic to the League Cup title last season. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson
"Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard can play into their late thirties but they’re getting forty-grand a week and can walk into coaching or TV jobs. When you’re at a crossroads you can have to think about deeply about it I have two young kids and a wife and I want to stay in the game and this is the best decision for me at this stage."
We moved onto his role of Director of Underage Football and the good news for any parent who has their offspring in the Pats' system is that not only will he make them better footballers he’ll try to make them better people. As an example he cites dropping one of their players for misbehaving in school.
O’Brien protects the players from themselves. “They’re so young and innocent they think they’re just going to be footballers but as adults you have to provide an environment to make them good footballers but also good people. It’s more important to him that the players that don’t make it become well rounded good people. Even if they don’t become football superstars, O’Brien believes they can take something from their time at the club."
Ger O’Brien is a guy we could talk to all day and in the 30 or so minutes we spent chatting this week he covered the subjects above but also Pats' slow start to the season and why Conan Byrne scoring 100 goals is a special achievement.