WHEN you have the perfect life, nobody wants to listen to your complaints. When your pay is generous to the point that not just your own future, but your children’s too, is secured forever, some terms and conditions have to accompany the dream job.
Darren O’Dea knows this. He may have an all-consuming attitude to his profession but he isn’t self-obsessed to the point where he doesn’t have a life outside of being a footballer. Married with a child, he has learnt since his daughter Lucia was born, to bracket certain thoughts into one department and more private ones into another.
Yet, before Lucia came along, that wasn’t so simple. Notoriously self-critical, he would fall victim to what golf gurus call paralysis by analysis after some big-game failings. Gordon Strachan once dropped him for three weeks after an Old Firm defeat because O’Dea couldn’t move on from it.
These days, though, he has matured into a calmer type of guy, the sort an Irish manager can rely on, as he did in four of the 10 qualifiers Ireland played on their way to the Euro 2012 finals.
Still, over the last week, O’Dea has been hurting. Hurting bad. Part of a Leeds United defence that conceded four goals to Barnsley, O’Dea knew the moment he walked out of Oakwell last Saturday that he was in for some dark moments in his attempt to rid his mind of those painful thoughts.
O’Dea says: “People think footballers are different. We’re not. We’re human, susceptible to the same concerns and fears as others. I’ve had to learn how to cope with being a bad loser, with taking the defeat home with me and letting it affect my mood.
“Until my daughter was born, football was my life and it was as if nothing else mattered. Now, I know everything else matters. If I was to get down about a result, I wouldn’t be fair on my wife or my daughter. I’ve a healthier outlook on life now. But while I’ve learnt to cope with defeats better, I still have my moments. What keeps me going outside the game is my family. What keeps me going inside it is my addiction to winning. That outweighs the bad stuff.
“The motivation to play in the Premier League, to win promotion, to play in the Euros, to be the best I can – will never go away. All I have done is get my head around losing a bit better.”
Getting his head around a concussion injury earlier this season took a little more time, however.
Knocked out in the Championship game against Birmingham City, O’Dea played at Brighton two weeks later and suffered further blurred vision.
Sensibly, he took a longer rest after that until the injury eventually cleared: “I realised it was something to take seriously.”
And therein lies the crux of this man’s career. Blurred vision or not, his singularity of focus has always been mentioned by all the managers he has worked under. Simon Grayson is the latest to address it, openly speaking of how impressed he has been by O’Dea’s leadership.
Together their aim is to bring the three-time English champions back into the top-flight, and while the Barnsley defeat bruised their morale, O’Dea reckons promotion is still attainable. “The playoffs are the least we are aiming for this year. Automatic promotion is the obvious goal but we are a little bit off it now.”
Grayson and he are also a little bit off finalising the deal to bring O’Dea to Elland Road on a permanent basis, with O’Dea admitting he would like it to be concluded this month. “If something could be done in January, it certainly would appeal to move.
“I’m at the stage of my life, and career, where I need to settle. I have been on loan three times now – this is my third year in a row – and with a wife and a kid, I want to get a permanent base. You want to get a home – not a house that you rent.
“Staying with Leeds is certainly attractive because they, like Celtic, are a massive club. Hopefully something will happen, if not now then in the summer.”
Of course, there is more than a transfer going on this summer in the young Dubliner’s life. By now he has matured into being an integral part of Giovanni Trapattoni’s squad, impressing not just on the park but off it. When he arrived into the panel last June carrying an injury, he worked laboriously on it with the team medics until it cleared, freeing him to feature against Macedonia when Trap’s team were struck down by withdrawals and absentees.
That passion for the national team is hardly surprising given his upbringing in a house where both parents represented their country at basketball and where trips to Lansdowne Road to watch Ireland interrupted his progress as a schoolboy protégé at Home Farm.
Since moving to Glasgow as a 16-year-old, his career has moved along at the rate you’d expect it too – a medal here, a Champions League appearance there – but despite all this, Neil Lennon isn’t a fan. And at 24, the time to move is accepted by both sides.
Besides, other things are occupying his thoughts, notably the attack forces of Croatia, Spain and Italy.
O’Dea says: “When the draw came out, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, given how we were landed with the best teams in Europe.
“Of course, you want to test yourself against the best. And of course, we don’t fear anyone. But Spain, let’s face it, are the best team in the world now – and may be the best there has ever been in football history.
“Italy, Croatia and ourselves will all believe we can make it to the quarter-finals. With the exception of Spain, we will all be pushing for second place.”
O’Dea, meanwhile, will be battling with Sean St Ledger for a starting place.
He says: “I’m very proud to have been a part of just the fifth Irish squad to qualify for a major championship finals.
“But I want to be more than just part of it. I have to ask myself, what can I do next? Where can I go next? I want more. But qualifying isn’t enough. We’ve got to look forward to something better.”