DEFIANT Jets striker Roy O’Donovan will not tone down his win-at-all-costs approach and says Football Federation Australia have “picked the wrong man” if they expect the Irishman to walk away from the A-League.
In the first interview since his appeal against a 10-match ban for a high-foot challenge on Victory keeper Lawrence Thomas in the grand final was dismissed, O’Donovan slammed FFA’s judicial process and labelled the way in which he had been depicted “hysterical and ridiculous”.
O’Donovan pleaded guilty in May to serious foul play, but insists he was going for the ball when he collected Lawrence flush on the cheek and believes that the sanction is excessive. The keeper was not seriously hurt and finished the game.
“I take full responsibility for making the challenge, but I made the challenge from a good place, not with any malice or intent,” O’Donovan told The Herald from Spain where the Jets have been at a pre-season training camp.
“It is very hard to come to grips with the way that I have been portrayed. I don’t portray myself to be any sort of angel. I play the game hard, but I play the game fair. The way I have been portrayed is hysterical, ridiculous and totally out of context to what actually happened.
“You can be made a scapegoat very easily, and you can get a reputation very easily.
If the ball is in the air and we need to score a goal to win a football game, damn right I am going to try and score a goal.- Roy O'Donovan
“I’m a lot of things, but I’m not a liar. I am as honest on the field as I am off it. I was 100 per cent honest in my attempts to score a goal there. I will never change from that.
“When I come back playing, I will be the same. If there is a ball to go for, I will be going for it. I won’t care about any judgement. I care only about one thing – scoring goals and helping my team anyway I can.”
The 32-year-old will serve the first match of the ban, the second largest in A-League history, in the Jets’ FFA Cup match against Gold Coast Knights at Cbus Stadium on Tuesday night.
Depending how far the Jets progress in the knockout competition, O’Donovan could miss up to nine rounds of the A-League.
“I think they are trying to make me walk away from it,” O’Donovan said.
“The problem they have is that I am too stubborn. If they had given me four games and said ‘we’d rather you not play in the A-League’, I probably would have took it. The fact that they are trying to test my resolve, my resilience … they are testing the wrong man.
“You are playing high-level sport, it’s the last minute of a grand final and you are trying to score a goal. Accidents happen, they happen all over the world. I feel like the process around the suspension and the appeal; having to speak to judges who have never kicked a football in their life, that is where the frustration lies. You feel powerless.”
After three hours of evidence at the July 10 appeal hearing, the panel of Alan Sullivan QC, Justice Rachel Pepper and former national league player Peter Tsekenis took 10 minutes to dismiss the case.
O’Donovan questioned whether the panel fully understood top-level sport and, in particular, the cut-throat nature of professional football.
“I am getting prosecuted by solicitors who have never played the game and people who, maybe at one stage, were semi-professional players, and they are giving their opinion,” he said.
“This is my livelihood. I have been a professional footballer going on 17 years. Every time I step on a football pitch means something. Winning games means something. I have come from a system in England where if you don’t win games, you don’t play. If you don’t win games, you get relegated. If you get relegated people lose jobs. Players, staff, kit men, cleaning ladies. That is the background I come from. If the ball is in the air and we need to score a goal to win a football game, damn right I am going to try and score a goal.
“For three judges to tell you what you have done is bizarre, shows contempt for football players from my background. At times on the football pitch I have done something naughty. This is completely different. I was trying to score a goal and help my team.”
In handing down the initial finding, Ethics and Disciplinary Committee chairman John Marshall SC said O’Donovan’s "flying kick" was "the most dangerous play which has ever come before the committee".
“To say it was worse than Kevin Muscat, who did hurt somebody and ended his career. The Melbourne Victory (assistant) coaches go on the pitch and assault a player and get four games ... what world are we living in,” O’Donovan said. “I made a challenge on the pitch for a football – I did miss-time it – but to get 10 games is ridiculous and an idictment on football in Australia.”
O'Donovan had suffered a fractured eye-socket from an elbow by Victory striker Besart Berisha earlier in the decider and argued that his vision was "blurred" when he collided with Thomas.
The panel, though, said he showed a "disregard for the danger" his action posed and he "used excessive force and brutality".
“The facial surgeon who I saw afterwards, he listed everything: broken eye socket, broken nose… these solicitors and barristers, not only are they solicitors and barristers, they are above doctors now,” O’Donovan said. “They dismissed any broken bones I had in my face and eye.”
In the aftermath, former Sydney FC and Melbourne Heart goalkeeper Clint Bolton labelled O’Donovan “the dirtiest player that's ever disgraced this league”.
“As a former goalkeeper, he is obviously not going to be happy,” O’Donovan said. “I must say the majority of people have been fantastic. Everyone can see it for what it is, and have said it is a very, very harsh suspension. It was double, maybe triple, the suspension it should have been. The worst case scenario for me when I went for the ball was for the goalkeeper to knee me or punch me in the head. I was willing to take that hit. I didn’t think for one second that my foot was going to be that high. That is the ridiculous thing about it. If you watch the game, it happened so quick. I went for the ball. If I was a split second earlier, I touch the ball or he takes me out. It is easy for former players to slow it down to whatever. I never saw the goalkeeper until the last moment. I couldn’t change my body shape or halt momentum. I was too far gone at that moment. I apologised to Lawrence Thomas afterwards. He is a good bloke and I didn’t mean for that to happen. He was great about it.”
O’Donovan played in the Jets’ three friendlies in Spain and is expected to feature in other pre-season games outside of the FFA Cup.
The Jets, meanwhile are in the market for another striker to supplement the Irishman, who netted nine goals in 15 games last season.
“I am getting on with it. I’m training hard,” O’Donovan said. “I believe everything happens for a reason.”
O’Donovan’ scored a double in the Jets’ 3-2 loss to Spainish side Cartagena on Saturday morning. The squad arrives home Monday.