The long road home- Kieran 'Tarzan' O'Brien.

It's a long way from Wolfe Tone to the Carlisle Grounds. Not as the crow flies, or even down and right along the Quinnsboro Road, but by way of the white line in the RSC, the Brandywell, the Showgrounds- we all know the list, and Tarzan knows them perhaps better than most.
Add in the USA on the one hand and Switzerland on the other, and fill in a few other venues from the Leinster Senior League, the SDL and the WDSL, and you have a map of his career. It's a career he has sometimes seemed about to walk away from, but never quite got around to quitting.

Father Noel, a Bray man and a glassblower in the Boghall Road while that work lasted, and mother Anne, originally from Enniskerry, raised five children, Kieran among them. From the age of 6, the impish lad was playing with a team: first with Wolfe Tone where, he says, 2I played ahead of myself until I was 12."

And collected a fair few trophies in the South Dublin League along the way. It was a time when schoolboys could, and did if they were keen enough, play with two clubs. Kieran was keen enough.

Others weren't, and in his under-13 season the Wolfe Tone team he was with disbanded (coincidentally about the same time the rules were changed, limiting players to one club). Kieran was with St. Fergals thereafter until he was 17.

For most young lads of his generation who were anyway decent at football, England was always a dream, but one kieran O'Brien seemed determined to wake himself from.

"I was asked many times to go to Joes," he smiles, "and I'm sure I was aware that scouts went there more often than out to Wicklow. I was even asked to sign for Leicester Celtic and for Valeview Shankill. I did go to Leicester once, for a cup match, and the other team didn't turn up, so they didn't get to try me out. they asked would I come again for the next round but I said no."

Fergals were a strong team, he recalls, but they were the end of the schoolboy road, as there was no under-18 League. Young O'Brien didn't see anything much ahead, and found himself playing 5-a-side and 7-a-side. but that was fun, and Little Bray followed, taking him into the Wicklow League Premier Division for two seasons, which produced seven trophies.

Now things were getting interesting again, and Kieran was looking for a new challenge. But his next move wasn't as successful: he joined St. Josephs Boys Leinster Senior League team. "It was just a bad year," he says of their relegation, "and they went down again the following season."

This time, from the intervening 7-a-side games, it was John Holmes who looked for O'Brien to train with Bray Wanderers, and then asked him to sign amateur forms with the club. As was- and still is- usual, the new recruit played for the B team first, with occasional bench appearances and substitutions.

"As it turned out, the first start I got was to be Holmesy's last game in charge. but I suppose when I scored two against St. James's Gate it helped. Anyway, when Pat Devlin arrived, he kept the same starting eleven for the next game."

And Tarzan did himself no harm when he scored again in the final game of that season. The B team's leading goal-scorer and Player of the Year had made a mark at just the right moment.

The next season, Devlin signed him on a full contract, and he rapidly became something of a local hero among the small but vociferous band of Seagulls faithful.

The story of his nickname has been told elsewhere, and has nothing to do with football (much more a very Bray tradition that nicknames can be inherited), but it helped- especially that, below average height for a player, and with a semi-permanent impish grin, he looked nothing at all like a jungle hero.

"The game needs an awful lot of commitment," he says, it dictates your social life and everything." Tell that to Tracy, who has followed him since the days at Little Bray; to teenager Laura, or five-year-old Chloe. Or even Jake (3), who is now a regular in the family group at the home matches.

"She understands that you miss things, all sorts of things. But she's a great support. I think she was the only player's partner there when we played at the Hardturm in Zurich."

In 1997, a bizarre morning, barely a week into a new job, saw him running around like a mad thing for what turned out to be a very good cause. Early that day the tannoy announced a phone call for him. It was the manager.

"Tarzan, have you a passport?" "No, why?" "They might want you on the National League under-23's." "Are they going somewhere?" "Yes, to the USA- tomorrow!"

Well, that reconstruction might be a little 'sexed-up' as they say in political circles these days, but dramatised or no, an hour later kieran was desperately trying to sort out papers, documents. packing, last minute training at Clonshaugh- with no gear, that was to follow- and finally falling onto the plane in Dublin 24 hours later.

"It was a mad rush, but it was worth it. An unbelieveable experience. I was the 17th man on the squad, and I was very lucky to get three runs during the trip, twice against the US Olympic team, and once against a team called Shamrock.

"We beat the Olympic team 4-1 on the first occasion, and lost the second one 1-0. I suppose you could call it an aggregate win, but the second match was on TV over there, and of course two lads from Bray saw it and the family at home heard all about it before I got back!"

Kieran O'Brien is relaxed about the fact that sooner or later he'll have to hang up his boots. after all, he's faced that prospect a couple of times before, in a way, and been rescued. And the town was full of rumours at the end of last season that he had done just that once again.

"Last season we had one of the best squads ever. They worked hard, we had meeting after meeting to try to solve the problem, and when we didn't manage it, it was the hardest relegation ever. It's just a pity there isn't better support- the ones that are there are great, especially the younger ones, we just need more of them. It's amazing what a lift you get from them. If we could get the town generally: it's a sleeping giant, if the town was behind us, bray could be a very big club indeed."

But he's looking ahead, facing reality. "I've done a coaching badge, and I'd love to start with schoolboy management. i've got a lot out of football, and maybe it's time to put something back. Maybe one day I'd be into League of Ireland management!"

To judge by his contribution to the Junior Supporters Club activities, and his relationship with the youngsters, he could be very good with schoolboy football.

But it's not a matter of putting something back in. He already has.

Mícheál Ó hUanacháin.

(Reproduced with permission). 

The O'Connor family.

When Jerry and Pat O'Connor brought four sons into the world, little did they know they would create a football dynasty. From eldest of the clan, James, down to the youngest of the quartet, Kevin, having a ball at their feet has become second nature. But one constant between them all was their involvement with Wolfe Tone Youth Club.

All learned their trade, apart from the greens beside their Woodbrook Lawn home, at the Temple Sportsfield or as it's more commonly known, the Vevay. Their reward has seen two make the grade across the water in England, the other duo have also left their mark at domestic level in this country. Although they all lined out in the middle to late teens with St. Josephs Boys in Sallynoggin, most people associated them with their days in the Blue of the Club.

Since joining Stoke City as an apprentice back in 1996, James has served under ten different managers and racked up over 200 appearances for the Potters despite his young age of 23. Apart from an Auto Windscreens Shield winners medal, James has twice been voted Stoke Player of the Year and helped them stay in the First Division recently, having guided them to promotion via the play-offs in May 2002. The battling midfielder has also earned international honours with the Republic of Ireland, securing eight U21 caps and playing in the prestigious Toulon tournament after progressing from the Irish Youths.

22-year old Danny too has taken the spotlight, most notably in January of this year as he went down in the record books at Drogheda United. He claimed the extra time winner that helped the Louth outfit retain their Eircom League Premier Division status in their dramatic win over Galway United. Having now established himself as one of the better attacking centre halves/ full backs in the League of Ireland, Danny first came to prominence with Bray Wanderers. Although his appearances were limited, many locals felt his loss when he moved to the Louth outfit.

Although the quiet one, Gary (20) has proved that doing the hard work without much fuss can bring its rewards. A stalwart at Wolfe Tone, he has followed Danny to Drogheda and become a vital part of their U21 panel despite being plagued by injury of late.

With Wolverhampton Wanderers now back in the premiership, promising midfielder Kevin (17) has been called one of the stars of the future. Capped for Ireland at U15's and 16's which took him to Portugal and Spain in a green shirt, he has just completed his first campaign at Molineux. And his rise to stardom has been rapid. An integral member of Wolve's youth panel, Kevin has featured in reserve teams and trained with the senior panel.

June 2003. Researched by Paul Dowling  

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