From Sunderland to Newcastle: Roy O'Donovan's adventures in sport

At 35, the Dublin Hill man is still hitting the net regularly in Oz
From Sunderland to Newcastle: Roy O'Donovan's adventures in sport

Roy O'Donovan controls the ball during the A-League match between the Western Sydney Wanderers and the Newcastle Jets at Bankwest Stadium in Sydney last year. Picture: Jason McCawley/Getty Images

HE scored his 50th goal in 100 games and celebrated his family becoming citizens of Australia, not a bad way to begin the new year!

Former Cork City player Roy O’Donovan is loving life down under and at 35 years of age, playing for Newcastle Jets in the A league, he shows no sign of slowing down. He recently scored his 50th goal from 100 games and is as fit as he has ever been.

“It was great to score my 50th goal in just over 100 games last weekend and it’s a nice milestone to hit but I’m still hungry for more,” said O’Donovan.

The Dublin Hill-man who played his schoolboy soccer with Leeds of Ballyvolane has enjoyed a remarkable career and here he tells us how soccer has brought him so much joy, playing all over the world.

“I have been very fortunate to play football all over the world but I feel it’s only now playing in Australia where I’ve got the life and football balance right. The sunshine helps, laughs O’Donovan.

“We live in a place called Newcastle which is about 90 minutes north of Sydney on the east coast. 

"It’s a very relaxed way of life here with people finishing up a day's work by going for a swim at the beach and a beer. It’s a fantastic life for myself, my wife Ellen and my son Alfie.

We became citizens of Australia and we are very honoured and proud of this as since we moved here five years ago it has felt like home. 

"We miss our family back in Cork but we get home every year for a month or so and our family come over here regularly so it’s not too bad.

“I’ve played here for five years in the A league and it’s a really good standard similar to Holland or France maybe in its style but obviously the heat here means you have to be extremely fit to play at a high tempo for 90 minutes.” 

O'Donovan, who was capped at Irish U19, U21, and B level has played for many professional clubs in his time, 14 in total. However, he feels privileged to have got to experience the game in some of the top leagues in the world.

“I’ve been lucky to experience playing at the top level in so many countries. It has been a fab experience. 

"It all started when I played the majority of my schoolboy football with Leeds in Ballyvolane and those are still some of the happiest memories I have on a football pitch. I also played a season with Blarney Street before making the move to English football."

In 2001, he signed for English Premier League club Coventry City as a trainee but ended up returning home and he joined Cork City. 

"I enjoyed my time at City but I left in 2007 with a bit of a heavy heart because it’s a club that I have supported all my life." 

Roy O'Donovan wins the ball from Red Star Belgrade's Nenad Milijas during the 2006 Champions League qualifier. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Roy O'Donovan wins the ball from Red Star Belgrade's Nenad Milijas during the 2006 Champions League qualifier. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

As an ambitious 21-year-old, he had an opportunity to play in the Premier League for Roy Keane at Sunderland and it was an opportunity that he simply couldn’t turn down. 

I learned a hell of a lot there about making the best of your ability and your career and have always taken that advice with me.

“I made my Premier League debut for Sunderland as a 70th-minute substitute in the 2–2 draw with Birmingham City that August. I went on to make 17 appearances for the Black Cats in the 2007/08 season, starting four League games. 

"I then went out on loan to a few clubs, Dundee United, Blackpool, Southend United, Hartlepool United, had a few years with Coventry and out on loan again to Hibs and then a season with Northampton Town. All experiences I learned from but then I decided to head to Asia and life has been great ever since.” 

In his first season with Brunei DPMM, O’Donovan scored 26 goals and was a fan favourite. From here he went to Mitra Kukar of the Indonesian Superleague and then onto the Central Coast Mariners. 

He finished his first season in Australia as the club’s golden boot winner as well as the Hyundai A-league Goal of the Season’ Life in Australia has proved a success to date and after a brief spell with Brisbane Roar, O’Donovan is now with Newcastle Jets.

“As a family we love it here and thankfully I am really enjoying my football. Covid hasn’t really affected Australia too much. We are back playing our new season with supporters back in the stadium now thankfully, so there is light at the end of the tunnel for everybody back in Cork.” 

Roy and Ellen O'Donovan at the 1992-93 team night at Soho Bar in 2018. Picture: Diane Cusack
Roy and Ellen O'Donovan at the 1992-93 team night at Soho Bar in 2018. Picture: Diane Cusack

 With regards to his home town and former club, O’Donovan is quick to praise Cork City and hopes they will be back on the top tier of football soon.

“Obviously it wasn’t good to see City relegated last season but it now gives them a chance to re-group and come back up a better side to the Premier Division hopefully at the first attempt if they get the player recruitment right.

“Colin Healy is a really good appointment because he knows the young players from his previous role as head of youth and he knows just what’s needed to get them back up. I wish them all the best.” 

Still feeling fit and fresh, O’Donovan plans on playing for another few years however completing his coaching badges is something he is keen on doing to plan for life after his playing days.

“I’m planning on playing another few years yet. Physically I feel good and have lots more that I want to achieve before I decide enough is enough. 

"I’m currently doing my UEFA A Licence with a view to the future but I’m still very much in playing mode. And long may that continue.”

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