For someone who has built a career out of kicking and tackling, Roy O’Donovan is a surprisingly gentle guy. Aside from post-training sweat and anticipation of oncoming muscle cramps, the Mariners' striker has a humble bounce in his step and it’s not difficult to see why.
The 30-year-old Cork born man became a father last Thursday, on St Patrick’s Day best of all, to a little boy named Alfie!
“To be a father and having a little baby like that at home, it’s surreal really,” O’Donovan said. “I’m still doing the same things but every now and then you look down and there’s a baby sleeping in the cot. It’s different, but I love it.”
Pairing the birth of his first child with a spectacular goal in last Saturday’s match against Sydney FC capped off what was an extraordinary – albeit emotional – week for Roy and his wife Ellen.
Whilst the Mariners aren’t pushing for finals contention, Roy is determined to finish the season on a high. He wants Alfie to be able to wear a Mariners jersey proudly.
“Hopefully he’ll get to wear one before the end of the season,” O’Donovan said.
While it’s still too early to tell if Alfie has inherited his father’s knack with the ball, there’s no doubt it’ll be hard for him to escape a future without football.
“Football was me. I actually didn’t start playing until I was eight; I was just a hyperactive, very energetic kid…I just started playing with the lads on the road,” O’Donovan said.
“I wouldn’t say I was a natural but I just kept practising and kept working at it and I became good at it. I was always quick; I was always able to score a goal," the former Sunderland striker said.
There was never a fall back for the quietly determined lad in case his hopes got the better of him.
“I fancy myself as a pretty bright guy, but there was no back up plan,” O’Donovan said.
"Even in school, when teachers asked you what profession you wanted to be and you write down footballer but they say, ‘well, that’s a one in a billion chance, have you got a second option?’ There was never any second option for me.”
With that unstoppable dream of his, Roy moved to England at fifteen after signing with Coventry City, a Premier League team at the time, and made it professionally after a year or two in academy.
“To be honest with you, I wouldn’t recommend children leave their own country that young without a support network. I was just so bullish that I wanted to be a footballer, I wanted to leave right now, I wanted to be a first team player in the premier league at 16, that kind of stuff,” O’Donovan said.
Whether he would want his own son taking the same route is questionable. Stay in school is the kind of message he’s saving for Alfie when the time is right.
“You tell them get an education, don’t be leaving school when you’re a teenager, but I was just so headstrong focused and I had great belief it was going to happen,” O’Donovan said.
When his break out stint in England led to homesickness, Roy moved back to his hometown club, Cork City, to do some growing up and spend time with someone he describes his greatest influence, his dad.
“It was the best thing I ever did. I remember as a kid, on Christmas Day with a new pair of football boots, he’d bring me out to a quiet football pitch somewhere. It was heaven for me,” O’Donovan said. “It was Dad, that hunger and drive.”
Only time will tell if the O’Donovan ambition will come full circle.