Football

Darren O'Dea Explains How A Trip To The Jacks Almost Got Him Killed In Ukraine

Darren O'Dea Explains How A Trip To The Jacks Almost Got Him Killed In Ukraine

Having played professional football in five different countries at the tender age of just 29, Ireland international Darren O'Dea could stake a claim to having one of the more fascinating Irish sporting careers.

The former Celtic and Leeds centre-back joined Gavin Cooney and Gavan Casey on this week's Balls.ie Football Show to discuss a footballing journey which has seen him play under Roy Keane at Ipswich as well as Nicolas Anelka in Mumbai, with a life-making three-year stint in MLS sandwiched between. You can listen to the full chat on iTunes and your usual podcast providers.

It was O'Dea's extraordinary year at the now-defunct Metalurh Donetsk which provided perhaps his most enthralling yarn, however. The 2012 FAI Young International of the Year arrived in eastern Ukraine months prior to it becoming a hellish warzone, with Donetsk bearing the brunt of Russia's invasion of Crimea.

O'Dea initially lived in the club's training ground before moving into a hotel - his only contact with his wife and daughter being via Skype, his only grasp of who was winning the war outside dependant on which flag flew over the nearby parliamentary buildings on a given day.

In such volatile territory, and in a part of Ukraine which according to O'Dea himself wouldn't be renowned for its effective infrastructure and public transport, you can probably imagine the difficulties brought about by a lengthy away trip. O'Dea sets the scene:

It was very, very strange. There was a time we went down for an away game in Crimea, and Crimea is obviously a part of Ukraine, or was a part of Ukraine but had been overtaken by Russia.

There was - if you like - a 'fake' Russian border set up by men in balaclavas and machine-guns when we arrived, and they wouldn't allow our foreign players - as in myself - across this border without Visas. But we were on our way for a Ukrainian Premier League match, so we were stuck at a border for four or five hours.

Eventually we did get through, I think the Russian Embassy - it was mental - everyone was involved before we played the game. And, obviously, we got out of there as quickly as possible.

So when I look back now, yeah, it was insane, but it was an experience to say the least.

It was at this fake Russian border, however, where O'Dea had his most surreal and terrifying experience in Ukraine.

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It arrived during a simple trip to the bog while the Metalurh squad were being held up by Putin's Russian armed forces.

We'd probably travelled for six hours down to that border. So we got stuck at the border, we're obviously going to a game the next day, and you're hydrating and drinking plenty of water because you're travelling a lot. So naturally you needed the toilet.

We weren't allowed off the bus. I got the hump a bit and said to the lads, 'Come on, we'll go over [to the toilet]'. There was a porta-cabin across the road with a toilet in it. So I went to walk over with four or five of the lads.

Next thing you know, there's Russian army soldiers pointing machine-guns at us, running at us, shouting.

Obviously I couldn't understand exactly what they were saying. The Russian lads that were with us scarpered quickly enough, but the foreign lads - we didn't know what they were saying. All I saw was a machine-gun in my face!

So yeah, we quickly got back to the bus. We waited half an hour, and basically, our technical director had to organise a trip to the toilet. We were escorted to the toilet, we were watched, and we were brought back to the bus.

I don't know exactly what they thought we were going to do, but yeah, it was one of my more strange toilet experiences!

Despite numerous warnings from O'Dea's best friend Aiden McGeady while the latter was plying his trade in Moscow (discussed on the podcast), O'Dea followed the money to Ukraine having left a life-changing three-year spell in Toronto.

Despite having almost gotten shot by invading Russian soldiers and living a frequently miserable existence away from his loved ones, it remains a fascinating chapter in O'Dea's well-travelled story.

And it's not one which the 20-cap Ireland international reflects upon with any regret.

It was torture at times, I have to say. There was plenty of foreign players there but they were all from different cultures to myself. I got on fine with them. I made some okay friends, but it wouldn't be guys I'd keep in touch with now. My days were going to training, and coming home and watching box sets of things. Now, doing that for pre-season when you're away in a hotel for a few weeks is okay, but doing it for a year - it can get very, very lonely.

I left Donetsk and I needed to leave for my own sanity more than anything else. The whole experience was fantastic - now, looking back on it - but at the time it was very difficult.

You can listen to the full interview with Darren O'Dea on the latest episode of The Balls.ie Football Show below. To subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, head over here.

MORE FROM THE POD: Darren O'Dea's Very Different Insight Into Roy Keane's Management Style

Gavan Casey
Article written by
Former handwriting champion. Was violently bitten by a pelican at Fota Wildlife Park in 2001.

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