Darren O’Dea puts Old Firm match in perspective
So, while everyone else seems to be getting het up over the revival of the Old Firm match in the League Cup semi-final, the former Celtic defender can bring some calm perspective to the great debate.
The Irishman witnessed real tribalism and real hatred in his final months with Metalurh Donetsk. If the rivalry between Celtic and Rangers fans could be termed hatred, and O’Dea didn’t demur, then it had to be about wanting your team to beat the other lot for as long as the game lasted and nothing more.
“The hatred, if you want to call it that, should stay within football and between rivals,” he said.
“You should only hate people because they are rivals and it should have no bearing on other things like religion or anything else.
“If is does then it becomes pathetic. It becomes stupid but to be fair to the fans of both clubs it is very much a minority who ruin if for other people. This hatred is always going to be there but is has to be managed.”
O’Dea was speaking at Hampden where, in 2009, he helped Celtic win the League Cup, an extra-time header against who else but Rangers sending them on their way to a 2-0 victory.
Making the draw for the fourth round of the Scottish Cup, he couldn’t quite contrive another Old Firm clash, and maybe that was just as well.
But the 27-year-old is in no doubt that the return of the fixture is just what our game needs.
He said: “It’s no secret that Scottish football has taken a bit of a hit in the last few years.
“I consider myself nearly half-Scottish and it has been tough to watch. It’s a bit dull just now. It isn’t for Celtic but for some other teams, I think. The Old Firm game is the best thing and the country, or the footballing part at least, needs it. We need the big teams playing each other and they don’t come any bigger than Celtic v Rangers.”
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O’Dea was asked if was concerned that so much hype and hullabaloo was swirling around the semi-final already when the game was still three months away.
After all, he was on duty to make the draw for another cup and no one wanted to know his opinion about that.
“I hope everyone is hyped up,” he said, “because that’s exactly what Scottish football needs. The build-up, it can hit fever-pitch and I hope it does. These are the two biggest clubs by a country mile. No one outside Scotland talks about anyone other than the Old Firm.
“But I hope people embrace this game and that it’s built up in the right way. We don’t want the stupidity that comes with it.
“We should enjoy the fact the Old Firm are playing each other. I’ve lived here long enough to know there are other issues to the fixture but hopefully we won’t have to worry about them.”
Capped 20 times by the Republic of Ireland, O’Dea was a Celt for six years. Pitching up in Glasgow as a 15-year-old, he was told by Tommy Burns: “You can play 35 games for us in a season but you’ll be judged on the ones against Rangers.”
Various loan deals in England included one under Roy Keane at Ipswich. Then he was off to Toronto FC before his dark Eastern European adventure where, amid the ever-changing Ukrainian and Russian flags, he was forced to live at the Metalurh training ground when Donetsk became a war zone and even a stroll to a toilet block would cause machine gun-wielding soldiers in balaclavas to get jittery.
Wife Melissa is Scottish and the couple have a three-year-old daughter, Lucia. He’s currently without a club and undergoing rehab with Celtic.
Would he take this opportunity to remind the current team, including those who’ve never played in an Old Firm game, of the importance of the semi- final? No, no, that wouldn’t be his place. Then, with a smile: “Well, yes, maybe!”
O’Dea added: “I think Scott Brown will do that. He’s the biggest player for Celtic, the driving force behind everything they do and so he’ll be massive in a game like this.
“I remember playing under Tony Mowbray and there were quite a few loan players involved. That doesn’t really work at clubs like Celtic and Rangers. There’s a lot of baggage with the clubs. If you’re on loan you need to buy into that.
“But I’m sure Scott will have everyone addressed and knowing exactly what they’re in for, and the experienced guys at Rangers will do the same.”
Who will win? Celtic would be favourites, he said, but Old Firm games are notoriously unpredictable. “There is so much that goes on that sometimes the football becomes secondary,” he said. “It can be more of a fight. You can have fantastic players on the pitch but it can come down to who wants to win more.”
The semi-final, when it eventually comes round, would be the biggest game of manager Ronny Deila’s Celtic career. Same with the players who’ve never encountered Rangers before.
O’Dea said: “In years to come they won’t remember who they played in the group stages of the Europa League, but they’ll remember the Old Firm games.”
For O’Dea, wherever he’s been, the part he played in a winning Old Firm final always crops up.
He said: “People always mention it. That’s why you play for Celtic and Rangers. To win cups and leagues and make history.”
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