O'Brien has no regrets about declining Irish invite
Republic of Ireland coach Steve Staunton wanted uncapped Toronto FC midfielder Ronnie O'Brien on his squad for this week's two-game tour of the U.S. But not only did O'Brien, who recently returned from a knee injury, nix the invite, he's not the least bit bothered about getting another chance to represent his country.
"I know a lot of players have aspirations to play on their national teams, but they haven't called me in for a long time so I don't hold out hope for it," he says. "I'm just happy playing club football. People are going to think it's strange, but it's the way I've always been."
Staunton asked TFC coach Mo Johnston about the winger's availability earlier this month. At the time, O'Brien hadn't played a minute for Major League Soccer's newest club. O'Brien, 28, missed Toronto's first four games after straining ligaments in his right knee during the preseason.
"I'm just coming back off an injury," O'Brien said. "I haven't played enough games. It just came at the wrong time."
It was another in a long line of missed opportunities for O'Brien, who once was considered a top prospect in his homeland. He signed with Middlesbrough of the English Premier League at 18 in 1997 and represented Ireland at youth level, winning the 1998 U-19 European Championship. A year later, he moved to Italian Serie A power Juventus. But that's when his country stopped calling.
"After I went to Juventus, I didn't get called into a couple of U-21 squads. So I sort of stopped worrying about it then," O'Brien says.
"As long as I'm happy and playing every week, it's good enough for me. I'm not looking for all the accolades or being a big star that comes with being a national team player."
O'Brien's name has been bandied about as a potential international on both sides of the Atlantic since he emerged as one of MLS' top performers while playing with FC Dallas. (O'Brien holds a Green Card and could potentially apply for U.S. citizenship). The three-time All-Star was a Best XI selection in 2004 and 2005 and seemed in line for a look-see during Ireland's failed World Cup qualifying campaign, but the chance never came.
Late last year, Staunton assistant Pat Devlin targeted O'Brien for the national B team, but a hamstring injury ruled him out. Ireland just missed out on qualifying for the 2006 World Cup after reaching the knockout stages of the 2002 event.
A young Irish team played Ecuador to a 1-1 draw at Giants Stadium in New Jersey on Wednesday. It meets D.C. United's Jaime Moreno and Bolivia on Saturday in Foxboro, Mass. Captain Kevin Kilbane is the only member with more than 10 caps.
Few MLS players have appeared for European sides while toiling stateside. The ones that have include Roberto Donadoni of Italy, who featured in the 1996 European Championship, and Miklos Molnar (Denmark) and Lothar Matthaus (Germany), who both played in Euro 2000.
O'Brien's TFC teammate Carl Robinson will suit up for Wales this summer. Former England captain David Beckham could be recalled after he joins the Los Angeles Galaxy in July.
Staunton says he'll monitor O'Brien ahead of Euro2008 qualifying this fall. Despite missing out again, O'Brien won't rule out eventually earning that elusive cap.
"If everything is going well and it's the right time to go and it's a good opportunity, then I'll go no problem," says O'Brien. "But it's not something I lose sleep over."
Doug McIntyre is a soccer columnist for ESPN The Magazine and ESPNsoccernet.