HAVING initially signed for Crystal Palace on loan from Cork City, at the beginning of February, Jake O’Brien is hoping that he can impress the Eagles bosses enough over the coming weeks to make the move permanent.
O’Brien has already featured for the Premier League club’s U23s over the past few weeks and the 19-year-old is determined to take his opportunities.
“I have a few months to put my foot down and make up the coaches’ mind to make the move permanent,” O’Brien says.
“It’s the second half of the season here, so I just want to get as many matches under my belt as I can and impress the manager even more.”
“Stephen Rice (former Shamrock Rovers player) is the assistant manager here and he speaks to me every day.
“It’s great to have someone from Ireland at the club. He’s an excellent coach and he has been a great help to me, which has helped me settle into the club.
“Over here, it is a lot more professional, in the way that you are training every day,” O’Brien says. “We could train two or three times a day, but, in saying that, Cork City was a very professional club, where they do train most days of the week, as well, so I was used to training a lot, but over here it’s just another step-up because with the club being in the Premier League, it has to be.
The facilities and the staff that the club have are unbelievable. The club have a lot of training pitches, they have several gyms, and there are new offices coming into the club.
“The staff, especially, is one of the differences I’ve noticed since coming to the club,” O’Brien says. “They have staff for everything, from strength-and-conditioning gym coaches, several physios, defending and attacking coaches, as well; there are coaches available for everything to help players improve.”
Although it was always O’Brien’s ambition to play in the UK, the defender’s move to Palace was a shock, but everyone involved has helped the 19-year-old to settle quickly.
“It did come (the transfer to Palace) as a bit of a surprise, but it was always a goal of mine to play in the UK,” O’Brien says. I had spoken to my agent previously before there was any mention of Palace’s interest.
“I got a phone call from my agent in November, telling me of Palace’s interest, and in early December I came over for a week and played two games, against Bromley and Luton Town, and went back to Cork after it.
“Once I came home, Palace’s interest had risen, and we got the deal done.
“I spoke to Colin (Healy) before and during the trial and he was nothing but a huge help, as well, and he wished me the best of luck, because he was a great help in getting me to here.
“He was my U19s manager, so he has helped me develop as a player,” O’Brien says.
“Once the deal was agreed with the club, it was a case of me packing my bags and jumping on a plane to join Palace. Of course, my family drove me up to the airport.
“They are used to driving me everywhere and they have been a huge help for me. There’s not a lot of people flying at the moment. I had to take a Covid test and once I had my negative test results back, I had to fly over within the three days,” O’Brien says.
“You can only fly if it is essential, so it was alright for me because I was going over to England to live and play football. Palace, then, just had a driver over here, waiting for me, that took me to the club.
“Everything has been good here. I’m settling in well. I’m living in digs with a host family,” O’Brien says.
“They take care of me, from cooking my meals to doing my laundry. There is one other player from the club’s U18s living with me, as well, which helps.
“I think starting off living in a digs is the best option because it is a new environment for me. Coming from Youghal, in Cork, is a lot different to living here and having the host family has helped me ease my way into living in London.”
I trained with, and got to know, Jake at Cork City. I can remember when Jake made his debut for City, against Shamrock Rovers in the FAI Cup.
The day before, we were training, and Jake was unaware he would be involved in the game the next day. When he got the call asking why he wasn’t training, he explained he was preparing for a game with the U19s that afternoon.
That’s how quick football can change: One day a player is getting ready for an U19 game and, the next, he is making his first-team debut.
It’s clear to see why Palace wanted Jake. He has all the attributes of a centre-back.
He’s tall, strong, quick, and can hit a diagonal pass comfortably. With the right coaching at Palace, Jake can become a Premier League defender.