Monday, 24 September 2012

Wayne O'Sullivan

2001 - 2003 : Paramatta Power (Australia)
2003 - 2004 : Northern Spirit (Australia)
2004 - 2005 : Geylang United (Singapore)
2005 - 2007 : Central Coast (Australia)
2007 - 2009 : Wellington Phoenix (New Zealand)

"I like the term 'Sexy Football', style with substance".

Born in Cyprus, but raised in Ireland, this man would earn plaudits during a decent career at the other side of the world. Wayne O'Sullivan, born in Akrotiti in 1974, played for over six years as a midfielder in  Australia and a year sweating it out in Singapore.

He bagan his career with Swindown Town in England, with whom he signed whilst still a junior player. Impressive performances in Division 3 led to a move to Welsh side Cardiff City in Division 1 for 75,000 pounds. He would spend two years with Cardiff and another two with Plymouth Argyle before leaving Europe for sunny Australia in 2001.

He signed for Parramatta Power of the National Soccer League. Founded in 1999, the club were owned by the Parramatta Eels rugby league club. Playing at the 21,000 capacity Parramatta Stadium, the club's short history would witness poor attendances and financial trouble, due in part to their location in West Sydney, an already heavily clustered soccer market. 

Linking up with Englishman Dave Lee and Scotsman Joey Miller, he played over 60 games for the Power before leaving in 2003. He signed for Northern Spirit, another Sydney based franchise who played at the 21,000 North City Oval. Founded in 1997, Spirit endured financial woes for most of its time in the NSL. Owned by shaky foreigners with links to Crystal Palace and Glasgow Rangers (two financially unsound clubs), they, like Parramatta, would disband in 2004. He became the second Irishman to represent Spirit, after Ben Burgess' short stint in 2001.

In signing for Spirit, O'Sullivan would link up with Scotsman and former Dunfermline striker Stewart Petrie. O'Sullivan and Petrie would play together for the next four years in Australia and Singapore.

O'Sullivan (left) tussles with South
Melbourne's Andy Vargas in 2003
The summer of 2004, saw O'Sullivan's old club Parramatta reach the Grand Final of the NSL at home. They lost 1-0 to Perth Glory in what was the league's last ever game. After years of financial mismanagement, dwindling attendances and a lack of public support, the NSL had become a stagnant and expensive league. In 2004, the competition officially collapsed, taking clubs like Parramatta Power and Northern Spirit with it. It would be 18 months before a professional national soccer league would return to Australia.

For his part however, O'Sullivan had served Spirit well, playing 24 games in their final season. However, the hiatus in Australian soccer meant that he would have to look elsewhere for a wage. He turned North to Singapore after he was offered a contract by Geylang United.

Based in the S-League, Geylang were founded in 1974. Known as the Eagles, they play home games at the 4,000 capacity Bedok Stadium in Eastern Singapore. The club were league champions in 1996 and 2001 and had finished the previous season in 2nd place. O'Sullivan and Peterie were singed by manager Scott O'Donnell for the 2004 season with the club at the foot of the table.

His first game in Singapore was a 1-0 home win against Woodlands Wellington in August, with O'Sullivan himself scoring the winning goal in the 60th minute. On September 14th, he would strike again as Geylang hammered Tanjong Pager United 4-0 away, with the Irishman bagging two goals.

O'Sullivan helped improve results, and the side finished in 7th place, and steered clear of relegation. Outside the league, things went better for Geylang. In the Cup, they successfully reached the semi-finals, before succumbing to a 4-3 aggregate loss to Tampines. The Irishman was on the scoresheet in the first leg, but it wasn't enough to reach the final. 

On the continent they qualified for the AFC Cup due to their second place finish in the previous year's S-League. In the group stages, they recorded victories over Island FC of the Maldives and Negeri Sembilan of Malaysia to finish second in their group, behind Indian side East Bengal. In the Quater-Finals they met with Malaysian giants Perak FC, beating them 5-3 on aggregate. The Semi-Finals pitted O'Sullivan and co. against Syria's Al-Wahda. O'Sullivan was injured as his team-mates secured a credible 1-1 draw in Damascus. However this was followed by a bitterly disappointing 0-1 home loss to the Syrians.

The following season they finished in 8th place. However, by then Australian football had been revamped, and the brand new Hyundai A-League was calling O'Sullivan back. By now aged 31, O'Sullivan (and Petrie) went to join the Central Coast Mariners. In his first year with the club, he became a fan favourite due to his tenacity on the field and hard-work. As he had done with Parramatta and Spirit, his high-energy, pass-and-move game saw him become hugely popular on the Central Coast, where he still lives today.

However, an inconsistent 2006-07 year saw him released by the club. In fairness to the 33 year old, he had been deployed at right-back for most of the year, a position not natural to him. However, that was not enough to convince manager Lawrie McKinna of his worth, and O'Sullivan became a free agent.

Not seeing himself get any younger, and seeing Australian football become more competitive, the Irishman decided to retire that summer. He had played over 400 games during his long career, from the mud of Wiltshire to the beaches of New South Wales. 

After securing his coaching badges from the Asian Football Federation, he was appointed as Assistant Manager at New Zealand based A-League side Wellington Phoenix. He was hired by Ricky Herbert, the Wellington manager, who also manages the New Zealand national team. While New Zealand were away on World Cup qualifying duty in 2007 and 2008, O'Sullivan was appointed caretaker manager of Phoenix on various occasions. 

In 2009, he was appointed manager of the women's side Newcastle Jets in the semi-professional W-League, a position he still holds to this day. He also works with Australia's youth teams and is heavily involved in youth football in the country.
O'Sullivan bestows advice to his players of Newcastle Jets
In 2011, he briefly returned to playing football when he signed for NSW club Lake Macquarie on a short-term deal. By now 37 years old, the Irishman played 11 games for the club in the NBN State League, before hanging up his boots for the second and last time.

O'Sullivan is strongly regarded as a talented young coach in Australia and has been tipped as an A-League manager in waiting. Watch this space...

Monday, 10 September 2012

Billy Mehmet

2010 - 11 : Gençlerbirliği (Turkey)
2011 : Samsunspor (Turkey)
2011 - 12 : Perth Glory (Australia)
2013 : Bangkok Glass (Thailand)
2013 - present : Dempo (India)

Born in London to an English mother and a Turkish-Cypriot father, Mehmet may seem like an unusual inclusion in the Wild Geese. But, this talented striker has a solitary cap, for the Irish Under-21s.  Qualifying for the Republic through his Irish grandfather, Mehmet played against Poland in 2004.

Born in 1984, he began his career with East London club West Ham United at just 8 years of age. Rising through the club's minor ranks, he became captain of the Academy side in his teens, and made club history as the youngest ever footballer to play for West Ham, when he participated in a testimonial game in 1998.

In 2003, he was sold by his boyhood club and moved north to Scotland and Dunfermline Athletic. Spending two years with the Pars, he would help insire them to an unprecendented 4th place finish in the 2003-04 Scottish Premier League. It was during his time with Dunfermline that he earned his call-up to the Republic of Ireland Under-21s. In 2005 he moved to St. Mirren, where he scored over 50 goals for the Saints in a 5 year period. Then, in May 2010 he moved to Turkey after being signed by Gençlerbirliği on a Bosman free-transfer. Other English speakers in the squad were Scotland international Michael Stewart, and Shane Smeltz from New Zealand.
Signing for Genclerbirligi

He was the first Irishman to ply his trade in Turkish football, since Jim Donnelly 73 years earlier.

Gençlerbirliği, also known as Ankara Rüzgârı (The Wind of Ankara), were founded in 1923. Based in the Turkish capital of Ankara, they have two Turkish Championships to their name, in 1941 and 1946, while two Turkish Cup crowns have also been won in 1987 and 2001. They play their home matches as the 19,000 capacity 19 Mayis Stadium, which also hosts two other local clubs.

When Mehmet signed, the club were being coached by former Germany international Thomas Doll and had just achieved a mid-table, 10th place finish the previous year. Faced with financial uncertainty, the club attempted to alleviate the problem by spending more money, on players like Mehmet and Stewart.

On October 21st, Doll was sacked and replaced by compatriot Ralf Zumdick. On November 12th, Mehmet started as Rüzgârı famously beat giants Galatasaray 0-2 in Istanbul.

Mehmet (right) celebrates with team-mates

By December, the club's weak financial situation was becoming more and more serious. In January, this precarious situation led to Mehmet mutually terminating his deal with Rüzgârı as his wages could not be garunteed for the next few months. Mehmet had made 14 appearances for the club, netting 2 goals. Michael Stewart, meanwhile, left the club too, having not made a single appearance due to injuries. Gençlerbirliği finished the season in 14th place, a poor result. 

Unfortunately for the Irishman, his contract with Gençlerbirliği had featured a clause that didn't allow him to play for another Super Lig club within a year of leaving. Therefore, in February Mehmet signed for First Division club Samsunspor. 

This was a brave move, as the striker had been offered deals back in Scotland and the English Championship. He stated at the time, "I'm very happy to be here, and am enjoying playing in Turkey". If only the likes of Robbie Keane could have felt the same about Italy.

Mehmet with Samsunspor
Samsunspor hail from the city of Samsun, on Turkey's Northern coast. Founded in 1965, they also play matches at a 19,000 capacity stadium called 19 Mayis, albeit a different one. After yo-yoing between division for 30 years, the club have found themselves in the Super League for most of the past 20 years. Although by the the time of Mehmet's arrival they were well-and-truly placed in Turkey's second tier. 

He was signed by manager Huseyin Kalpar, and slotted straight into the side, playing up front beside Nigerian Simon Zenke. With the exception of a brief injury in March, Mehmet was able to play in most of Samsunspor's remaining matched that season. When he signed, they were lying 4th in thr table; Mehmet put in 9 games for the club, scoring twice to help them finish in 2nd place and qualify for the Super Lig. However, Mehmet would not reappear in the top tier, as on September 7th, 2011 he moved to the Southern Hemisphere to sign for Western Australian side Perth Glory. 

Fully professional, Perth ply their trade in the Hyundai A-League, Australia's top division and their Perth Oval stadium holds 20,500 spectators. Founded in 1996, the club won two National Soccer League titles in 2003 and 2004. Since the creation of the A-League in 2005, the club has failed to land a major trophy. The club's current Head Coach is Scotsman Ian Ferguson, who signed the Irishman on a free transfer. 

At Perth, he would join former team-mate Shane Smeltz, as well as fellow Irishman Liam Miller. He played 22 matches in his first year with Glory, scoring 6 goals in the process.  Glory reached the final of the 2011-12 A-League, only to lose to Brisbane 2-1.
Mehmet with Perth Manager Ian Ferguson
Despite signing a new contract in February 2012, Mehmet became increasingly forced to the bench that year as club manager Ian Ferguson preferred playing Shane Smeltz as a lone striker. Less than a year later, in January 2013 the Irishman terminated his deal with Perth and signed a contract with Thai outfit Bangkok Glass. He had scored 10 goals in 42 appearances for Perth.

A new(ish) club, Bangkok Glass were founded in 2006, and in 2009 bought a franchis place in order to compete in the Thai Premier League. Since then, success has become common with a Thai Super Cup, a Queen's Cup (the Thai FA Cup) and a Singapore Cup having been won. Playing at the new 13,000 capacity Leo Stadium, the club has become one of the biggest teams in a growing Thai Premier League.

Mehmet playing for Bangkok

On the books for the 2013 season were a number of foreigners, with Mehmet one of only two Europeans. He was signed by English coach Phil Stubbins, a journeyman player and coach who's career has sent him to Japan, Australia and Thailand. However in March, less than two months after Mehmet's arrival, Stubbs resigned, leaving midfielder Anurak Srikerd as player-manager.

Mehmet scored on his club debut during a pre-season test against the Thai Armed Forces, and made his competitive debut on March 3rd against Songkhla United, a game which Bangkok lost 1-0. His time in Thailand would be short, and after only 3 matches and 1 goal, he left the club citing personal reasons. It is probably safe to assume that the early departure of Stubbs had a negative effect on Mehmet's adaption to club life in Bangkok.

Within weeks of leaving Thailand, the Irishman found another club in Asia by signing with the Indian Premier League's Dempo SC.

Hailing from Goa, a city of over a million people on the Indian Ocean coast, Dempo were founded in 1968. They play home games at the Fatorda Stadium; a ground that holds 27000 fans which they share with three other I-league clubs. Nicknamed the whites, Dempo are the holders of five league titles, including three I-league crowns (India's top flight went professional, changing from the National League to the I-league in 2007).

Mehmet was signed by Dempo's Asutralian coach Arthur Papas who had knowledge of the Irishman from his time in Perth. Not the only foreigner in the team, he would be joined by Australian international Simon Colosimo as well as a number of Japanese and Brazilian players. A number of his Indian team-mates are also internationals for their country. Dempo had finished the previous season in 5th and therefore were not eligible to play in the 2013-14 AFC Champions League.

Mehmet's time at Dempo has just begun, let's hope it proves fruitful, but certainly from a Republic of Ireland perspective, we definitely won't be seeing this trailblazer in a green shirt again.

Good luck!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Boston Rovers

Shipping up to Boston - Shamrock Rovers in America

1967 - United Soccer Association (USA)

In 1966, a consortium of American businessmen attempted to create a professional soccer league in North America. Sanctioned by both the USSFA and FIFA, the North American Soccer League was founded in 1967. However, at the same time a rival group founded another league, known as the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL). To avoid confusion, the former consortium changed their league name to the United Soccer Association (USA).

The USA was all set for a summer 1968 launch, however a year earlier the NPSL brokered a major agreement with CBS to broadcast games almost immedietly, and their league got underway. This led the USA to launch its league early to avoid loosing to its rival. This move was made however, in spite of the fact that the USA didn't yet have any teams or players of its own. So, to fill the void for 1967, European and South American teams were invited over for the summer to enter teams and participate against one another.

The call to America was answered by 12 clubs, and a league was quickly set up. Uruguay's C.A. Cerro, Holland's ADO Den Haag, Italy's Cagliari, Dundee United, Aberdeen and Hibernian of Scotland, Brazil's Bangu AC and Stoke City, Sunderland and Wolverhampton of England were all 'imported' and set up in various cities throughout the union. Two other teams to arrive off the boat were Glentoran from Northern Ireland and Shamrock Rovers from Ireland. In order to boost the league's popularity, the consortium laughably announced these twelve clubs as "the twelve best in the world".

Rovers had just finished their domestic league in Ireland in a disappointing 7th place, however they had won the FAI Cup. To America, they brought Billy Dixon, Tommy Kinsella, Tommy Kelly, Frank O'Neill, Mick Leech, Ronnie Nolan, Bobby Gilbert, Pat Dunne, Eamonn Gregg, Mick Kearin, Davey Pugh, Paddy Mulligan, Mick Smyth and Scotland's Dougie Wood with them. Player-Manager Liam Tuohy also came over to coach the side. In addition, the franchise were handed a guest player for the summer, in the form of Brazilian-born American international Carlos Metidieri. Also drafted into the squad was Carlos' younger brother Gilson

Boston Rovers 1967
The imported teams were given new names and existing stadia around the country. Cities were chosen to host clubs, based on their ethnic make-up. Therefore it should come as no surprise that Shamrock Rovers were set-up in Boston, a city with a large Irish population. Renamed the Boston Rovers, the side were handed the Manning Bowl of Lynn, Massachusetts as their new home ground. Traditionally an American Football arena, it held a capacity of 21,000 spectators.

The rest of the teams were distributed and renamed as follows:

FranchisesStadiums (Capacity)OwnersImported Teams
Boston RoversManning BowlLynn, MA(21,000)Weston Adams (Boston Bruins)Republic of Ireland Shamrock Rovers
Chicago MustangsComiskey Park (46,550)Arthur Allyn Jr. (Chicago White Sox)Italy Cagliari Calcio
Cleveland StokersCleveland Stadium (78,000)Vernon StoufferGabe Paul (Cleveland Indians)England Stoke City
Dallas TornadoCotton Bowl (75,504)Lamar Hunt (Kansas City Chiefs)Scotland Dundee United
Detroit CougarsTiger Stadium (36,000)William Clay Ford (Detroit Lions)Northern Ireland Glentoran
Houston StarsAstrodome (44,500)Judge Roy Hofheinz (Houston Astros)Brazil Bangu AC
Los Angeles WolvesLos Angeles Memorial Coliseum (93,000)Jack Kent Cooke (Los Angeles Lakers & Kings)England Wolverhampton Wanderers
New York SkylinersYankee Stadium (67,000)Madison Square Garden CorporationUruguay C.A. Cerro
San Francisco Golden Gate GalesCandlestick Park (59,942)George Fleharty (Ice Follies)Netherlands ADO Den Haag
Toronto CityVarsity Stadium (25,000)Steve StavroScotland Hibernian
Vancouver Royal CanadiansEmpire Stadium (33,000)Brigadier General E.G. EakinsEngland Sunderland
Washington WhipsD.C. Stadium (46,000)Earl ForemanScotland Aberdeen

Throughout the league were some big names in world football. Italian star striker Roberto Boninsegna lined out with the Chicago Mustangs while English goalkeeping legend Gordon Banks appeared for the Cleveland Stokers.

After a number of exhibition matches, the league kick off on May 28th. Initially, it looked like a major success as the Houston Stars (Bangu) attracted a crowd of 35,000 fans for their first home match. In Dallas' Cotton Bowl, Tornado (Dundee United) took in 16,000 people in their season opener. The USA was off to a better start than the NPSL, as no team drew in less than 7,000 fans that weekend.

Subsequent crowds didn't keep the pace however, and soon the league's average attendance dipped and stayed rooted at 7,500 a game. Rovers' average attendance for the summer was just 4,000 fans.

Frank O'Neill in action against the Detroit Cougars

Liam Tuohy, Rovers' player-manager
Their one season in the United States was not a prosperous one for Rovers. They finished 6th (last) in the Eastern Division after winning only 2 of their 12 games. Liam Tuohy and Frank O'Neill were the side's top scorers with three goals each. Roberto Boninsegna was the league's top goalscorer with 10 goals to is name.

Eastern Division

Washington Whips12525191115
Cleveland Stokers12534191314
Toronto City12435231713
Detroit Cougars12336111812
New York Skyliners12246151710
Boston Rovers1227312267

The League's Final was played between Eastern Divion winners the Washington Whips and the winners of the Western Division, the Los Angeles Wolves. Essentially a match between Aberdeen and Wolverhampton Wanderers, Los Angeles ran out 6-5 winners in the season's only real great game.

The following season saw the USA and the NPSL merge to form the first North American Soccer League (NASL). This league would run until 1984, and saw names as big as Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, George Best and Johnny Giles compete in their later years.

The 1968 season therefore saw most USA teams disbanded, or loose their connection to their mother club. Boston kept a link with Shamrock Rovers, but became a franchise in their own right. Moving to Fenway Park (a baseball ground in Boston) they changed their name to the Boston Beacons and competed for one year in the new NASL. 

Some Rovers players returned that summer to compete for the Beacons. Paddy Mulligan had returned with the Rovers squad to Dublin after the USA was finished. In 1968, Rovers sent him on loan to the Beacons and he returned to Boston to line-out for the new side, enticed probably by the money on offer. Still only 23, he scored 4 goals for the Beacons in his 21 games that season. Other players to return were Davey Pugh and Tommy Kelly. The side had changed dramatically however, and had lost its Irish make-up. Players from Yugoslavia, Sweden, Jamaica, Denmark, Suriname, Spain, Ethiopia and Greece among others now made up the squad.

Two other Irishmen Eric Barber and Joe Haverty lined out for the Kansas City Spurs that season, having played in the NPSL the previous year.

With another meagre average attendance of 4,000; the Beacons finished the season in 5th (last) place of their Atlantic Division. In 1969, the franchise were disbanded. Mulligan moved to Chelsea that year, beginning a glittering career in England, and earning the first of his 50 Ireland caps.

Boston would have to wait six years for another franchise soccer club, when the Boston Minutemen were established. Shamrock Rovers would go into decline for a decade following their trial in the United States, but returned to prominence in the early 1980s. 

North America would be graced with Irish talent in later years though as Johnny Giles, Steve Heighway and Gerry Daly among others would play and manage in the country. This tradition continues today with Robbie Keane, Darren O'Dea and Andy O'Brien lining out in the MLS.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

John Devine

1987 - 89 : IK Start (Norway)
1991 - 92 : East Bengal (India)

An interesting one, Devine dated beautiful women, played at the highest level in England, as well as representing his country, before ending his career in a far flung part of the world, that had little or no footballing tradition.

He was born in Dublin in 1958 and at the tender age of 16, he was snapped up by London giants Arsenal as a trainee. The right-back became part of a large Irish contingent in the Arsenal youth team, alongside Liam Brady, Frank Stapleton and David O'Leary. Making his senior debut in 1978, he would go on to play over 110 times for the Gunners, before moving to Norwich in 1983. 

Between 1979 and 1984, the Dubliner won 13 caps for the Republic of Ireland national team. He first wore the green shirt against Czechoslovakia, and last wore it against Norway. In 1980 he married Miss Ireland Michelle Rocca, after dating a number of high profile beauties in England.

He played over 70 times for the Canaries  and in 1985, moved to Stoke City, but his time with the Potters was frustrated by three broken legs which ended his professional career in England at just 28.

In the early spring of 1987 he signed for Norwegian club IK Start at the age of 29, with whom he would also work as a coach. Founded in 1906, Start had been crowned champions of Norway twice, in 1978 and 1980. Home matches are played at the 11,000 capacity Sor Arena, but in 1987 the 16,000 capacity Kristiansand Stadion served that purpose.

When the Dubliner arrived, the club were managed by Englishman Brian Green who signed Devine, having been familiar with the his exploits at Arsenal and Norwich. Other members of the Start squad were the then 17 year old, future Norway star Erik Mykland and Englishman Paul Richardsen.

His first season with Start would be disappointing however, as the club finished last in the First Division on just 25 points from 22 matches. After one season in the Second Division, they bounced back and regained promotion to the top flight. In the 1989 First Division season they did well, finishing in 9th and avoiding the drop. Another Irishman Mike McCabe from Waterford, notched 10 goals that year for Tromso, making him the league's fifth highest scorer.

Devine (middle-row, fourth from left) with Start in 1988

After the Norwegian season finished in October of that year, Devine moved back to Ireland and signed for Milltown club Shamrock Rovers. Over two years with Rovers he managed to win an FAI Cup, as well as make 41 appearances and score 7 goals.

In 1990 he divorced his wife and began searching for a new challenge and a new life. So on July 1st 1991, he moved to India of all places, to sign for East Bengal FC.

Founded in 1920, the club were known as Kingfisher East Bengal in 1991, but are today simply known as East Bengal. Playing today at the 120,000 capacity Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata, the club hold the record for the longest uninterrupted stint in India's Top Tier. 

India at the time, didn't have a national league, so Devine played for Kingfisher in the Kolkata League, which the club won the league in 1992, with Devine an important member of the squad. In India he also played in Sikkim Gold Cup, the Rovers Cup and the Indian Football Association Shield.

Back, middle, centre with East Bengal
The Dubliner is currently included in East Bengal's Hall of Fame.

He retired after leaving Kingfisher, and during the 1990s he worked with Shelbourne and Manchester United in various capacities. In 2008 he was appointed Head Coach of the now-defunct Sporting Fingal side, helping them earn promotion to the Irish Premier Division and qualify for the the Europa League qualifiers in 2010.

A rather interesting career path for player that could have been so much more successful  had it not been for injuries. 

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Sean Tse (謝嘉強)

2012 - present : South China (Hong Kong)

His name may not sound Irish, but this young defender is an Irish Under 17 international. Sean Ka Keung Tse was born in Salford, England in 1992. Signing first for Manchester United at the age of 12, he switched to rivals Manchester City a year later in 2005.

Although born in England, Tse's Father is from Hong Kong, while his Mother is Irish. Tse therefore had always intended on playing for one of these two countries. His dreams were realised early in his youth career when he was called up to Sean McCaffrey's Under-17s side in 2009. 

Tse rose through the ranks of the Manchester City Academy. He was named Player of the Month in November 2009, and his future at Eastlands looked promising. So much so, that in the 2011-12 season Manchester City named him in their squad for their first ever UEFA Champions' League campaign. However, the Irishman never made a first team appearance for the Citizens

He was released by Manchester City in July 2012 at the age of 20. A move to League One side Oldham Athletic loomed, but the player decided instead to return to his roots, and signed for Hong Kong side South China AA. 

He became the fifth Irish player to play in Hong Kong after Terry ConroyPeter FoleyTim O'Shea and Colin Baker.

South China Athletics Association are Hong Kong's most successful ever football team. In their 102 year old history, the club have won 40 First Division Titles, 30 Senior Shields, 9 FA Cups and 2 League Cups. They play their home games at the magnificent Hong Kong stadium, which can hold 40,000 fans.

Hong Kong stadium
Tse signed for South China on August 12th 2012, after being handed a contract by manager Liu Chun Fai. In order to bring in Tse, who was registered as Irish, the player has agreed to change his citizenship, adopting the nationality of his father. He has also stated his intention to switch to the Hong Kong national side, seeing his Irish future almost certainly come to an end.

Tse's debut against Yokohama
On 2nd September 2012, Tse made his debut for South China, coming on as a 74th minute substitute in a 5-2 over Yokohama FC Hong Kong. He remains at the club now, and has been joined by his younger brother, Adam.

In December 2012, Tse was selected by Hong Kong coach Kim Pan-Gon to represent his country at the 2013 Guangdong-Hong Kong Cup, a non-FIFA recognised tournament that Hong Kong won on penalties. Although it doesn't count as a full senior cap, no doubt it won't be long until Tse is a full international with Hong Kong.

He may not be 'Irish' anymore, but the Wild Geese will be keeping tabs on the young man anyway, and wish him luck.

Ronnie O'Brien

Person of the Century

1999 - 2002 : Juventus (Italy)
1999 :  Lugano (Switzerland)
2000 - 2001 :  Crotone (Italy)

2001 - 2002 : Lecco (Italy)
2002 - 2006 : Dallas (USA)
2007 : Toronto (Canada)
2008 : San Jose (USA)

As a teenager; Ronnie O'Brien was a promising midfielder, and a member of the famous Republic of Ireland Under 18 squad that would win the European Cup. However, unlike team-mates Robbie Keane and Damien Duff, O'Brien would never make an appearance for the senior side.

He was released by his club Middlesbrough in the summer of 1999. Another 19 year old  boy who failed to make the grade, his career would seem destined for the English lower leagues or a return to Ireland. However, fate had a more interesting plan in store for O'Brien, as he would soon find himself playing and training with some of the world's greatest players then struggling for form with small Mediterranean sides before finally making his name and his fortune in America.

That summer, to the shock and surprise of almost everyone, O'Brien was offered a 5 year contract with Italian giants Juventus. It was a move that shocked Middlesbrough manager Bryan Robson, who had just released the teenager, believing he would never make it at the top level. Juventus' coach Carlo Ancelotti, had been impressed by a video he had seen of the young Irishman playing for Middlesbrough's reserves, and snapped him up.

He would become the third Irishman to wear a Juventus shirt, after Matthew Kunding and Liam Brady

O'Brien (bottom left) featured on Juve's
official pre-season poster with Zidane,
Bachini, Ferrarra, Mirkovic and Conte
Before long 0'Brien found himself at Juve's pre season mountain retreat at Chatillon, where he was roomed with club captain, and current Juventus coach, Antonio Conte. He trained with Zinedine Zidane, Edgar Davids and Alessandro Del Piero.

He made his only appearance only appe for Juve in an August 1999 UEFA Intertoto Cup tie against Russian side Rostselmash. Coming on as a substitute for Zoran Mirkovic, Juventus were already cruising 5-0. The game ended 5-1. and O'Brien, quite unbelieveable to himself also, played for 13 minutes alongside Edwin van der Sar, Edgar Davids, Filippo Inzaghi and Alessandro Del Piero. The match was played at Cesena's Dino Manuzzi stadium, O'Brien would never play at the Delle Alpi. He would remain on the bench for the remainder of the club's Intertoto campaign, as they beat Rennes in the final to advance to the UEFA Cup for the 1999-2000 season.

O'Brien in action for Lugano
Juventus don't operate a reserve team system, so O'Brien was informed that he would be loaned out to a lower league side, and his progress monitored. This isn't unusual in Italy, especially with young players of a lesser reputation. The night before he was sent away, he was taken out for dinner by Edgar Davids, who bestowed upon him some fatherly advice. O'Brien was sent to Swiss side AC Lugano, then playing in the Nationalliga A, Switzerland's top tier league. Lugano finished the season in 11th, but by then after making 8 appearances, O'Brien was sent back to Turin.

He was loaned out again, this time to Italian Serie C club Crotone. O'Brien played only 4 times for the Squali in the 2000-2001 season. This lack of action, even for lower league sides, was beginning to damper his hoped of making it at Juve. By now, it seems, he wasn't destined to succeed in Italy.

Next it was Lecco, another club mired in the depths of the Italian game, who had last tasted top flight action in 1967. Again, O'Brien would utterly fail to establish himself at another weak side, playing 8 times. He was now 22, and the game was essentially up.

He was sent on loan once more to Scottish side Dundee United for the end of the 2001-2002 season, helping earn the Terrors a neat mid-table finish. He had hoped for a permanent move to Dundee, as it had become clear that Juventus, with Carlo Ancelotti no longer at the helm, didn't require him. The move didn't work out, and what's more, he was released from his contract by Juve that summer. 

He was the last Irishman on the books of a Serie A side, but not that last Irish player in Italy. A few years later, other young castaways of the English game Michael Collins, Conor Morrissey and Conor McCormick would unsuccessfully try their hand in Serie B.

The future was bright however, for the Bray man. For rather than roll up his sleeves in Scotland or buckle down in Italy, he moved across the Atlantic to spend six years in the sunshine of Major League Soccer, where he made his name and became highly regarded. 

He signed for Dallas Burn (now called F.C. Dallas) and scored on his debut in a cup tie. In spite of joining Burn mid-season he finished the 2002 season with 2 goals and 2 assists in 11 games. He began the 2003 season with high hopes and a fair amount of fanfare, however his dreams of the year were cut short in a horror challenger by Ukrainian Derma Kovalenko who broke O'Brien's tibia in the season's third game.  Burn went on to record one of their worst seasons. In 2004, O'Brien returned and was named in the MLS Best XI for the year. In 2005, he netted six goals and enjoyed 12 assists at Dallas finished their conference in 2nd place. By now he had become highly regarded in the league, and the memories of previous disappointments were wearing off. 

O'Brien scores two cracking goals for San Jose

In 2006 he began to clash with Dallas' Northern Irish head coach Colin Clarke. He spent the next year with Toronto, but another injury hampered his season. Finally, he signed for new MLS franchise the San Jose Earthquakes in 2008. 

Linking up with former Manchester City striker, Darren Huckerby, O'Brien helped lead the Earthquakes' offensive play. He scored the club's first ever goal in Major League Soccer

Here he put in another cracking season, scoring 6 goals and bringing his total MLS assists statistic to 45. However, in spite of him being the club's best player and creative spark, San Jose's chairman wanted O'Brien to take a massive pay cut. The Irishman refused and his contract was not be picked up for 2009. This shocked fans who protested the club.
San Jose fans protest O'Brien's release
O'Brien, tired of his persistent injury problems anyway, decided to retire. He was only 29. It was a rather ignominious and sad end to an extremely bright and classy Major League Soccer career. It seems that O'Brien's time as a professional footballer was to begin and end in defeat. However, for about 5 years, he managed, in spite of injuries and people's lack of belief in him, to prove that he was a good footballer and was one of North America's best players. 

Perhaps Juventus was a bit of a stretch for the Brayman, and he probably never would have made it in Turin, but he was certainly a top level footballer and his career path shows that second chances are always possible. He is now back in Dallas and is coaching their youth teams. 

Ronnie O'Brien, the Irish boy who dared to dream. I salute you!