Tuesday, 4 December 2012
2009 - 10 : Valletta F.C. (Malta)
A striker from Dublin, Declan O'Brien spent one season in Malta with Valletta, a side he had helped knock out of European competition not long before. In December 2009, O'Brien moved to to the island's capital after a fairly successful seven years in Irish football. He had begun his career with Drogheda United, before signing for Dundalk early in 2009. His time at Oriel Park was troubled however, and he went on loan to St. Patrick's Athletic.
With Pat's he scored on his début in the Europa League, against Maltese Premier League side Valletta. In the return leg, he found the net again, undoubtedly impressing the island club.
So much so that in December, after his loan deal with Pat's ended and his contract was not renewed at Dundalk, he was snapped up by Valletta on a free transfer.
Valletta Football Club were founded in 1943, after a merger between two successful local sides. They dominated the island's league in the 1990s, and today remain the most popular and strongly supported team in Malta. To their name they count 17 League titles and 12 Cups, as well as a host of other titles.
Like most sides in the Maltese Premier League, Valletta don't have their own stadium, but share the 18,000 capacity Ta' Qali ground with the other clubs.
O'Brien was brought in by Dutch coach Tom Caanen, who had been in charge since June. A journeyman career coach, Caanen had previously managed sides in Israel and Ukraine. His newly appointed assistant at Valletta was former Manchester United, Barcelona and Espanyol midfielder Jordi Cruyff, in his last season as a professional footballer. O'Brien was envisaged as a replacement for departing Dutch striker Geert den Ouden.
On signing he said "I'm delighted to be here, I want to show the people of Valletta that I'm a good player, that I can score goals and hopefully I'll win trophies with the team."
Another Irishman, Roddy Collins had been managing on the island, but would leave his post at Floriana within days of O'Brien's arrival.
The Dubliner's non-competitive début came against Italian giants Parma, in a triangular tournament. Valletta lost the match 3-1. He scored a flying header in the game. On February 15th, he netted 4 goals for the Citizens in the 6-0 hammering of the Dingli Swallows. Twelve days later, he came off the bench in a league match against Tarxien and found the net twice in just 15 minutes. Valletta won the match 6-2.
In March, the club signed Maltese international and former Coventry frontman, Michael Mifsud, and O'Brien's chances were limited after that.
Valletta finished the season's First Round in 1st place, enabling them to qualify for the Championship Pool. In that subsequent round, they lost out to Birkirkara, who were crowned League winners and qualified for the Champions' League qualifiers. Valletta finished in 2nd place, giving them the right to play in the Europa League the next year.
However, in spite of their League heart break, Valletta did win the Malta FA Cup, beating Qormi in the final in May 2010. O'Brien's contract had already ended by the time the tie was played, and he had returned to Ireland. However, he did receive a medal from the Maltese FA, making him a member of that small band of Irish players to have won medal's in Europe.
He scored an impressive 9 goals in 12 matches for Valletta. He is now back at Drogheda United.