GEORGE O'Callaghan has at last been able to sign an 18-month contract with Ipswich Town after his protracted move from Cork City. Today he tells Derek Davis, who covered Port Vale when the young Irishman was playing there, about his recent trials and tribulations and - finally - joy at signing for Ipswich Town.
GEORGE O'Callaghan has at last been able to sign an 18-month contract with Ipswich Town after his protracted move from Cork City. Today he tells Derek Davis, who covered Port Vale when the young Irishman was playing there, about his recent trials and tribulations and - finally - joy at signing for Ipswich Town
IF character is as important as ability for Jim Magilton's new-look Ipswich Town side then no wonder he has shown patience and a quiet determination to land George O'Callaghan.
On the playing side O'Callaghan oozes class with the ability to twist a defender's blood, pick a precision pass long or short and to score spectacular goals or be in the box for a tap-in.
His impact at Cork City, as a striker at first but then in midfield, was such that the Rebels won the eircom League and were runners-up in the FAI Cup and the lucrative Setanta Cup, with O'Callaghan scooping the eircom League Player of The Year award.
Those worried that such a build-up for a player dubbed 'The King' by Cork fans, can rest easy because another commodity O'Callaghan has in abundance is confidence.
That is not to be confused with arrogance because the lad from the heart of Rebel country is as down to earth as you will find and while more mature than the battered youngster who left Port Vale prematurely some five years ago, still has the same enthusiasm, belief and self-effacing humour he had when John Rudge first signed him as a kid at Vale Park.
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His ability on the pitch saw him make his debut against Wolves at just 17 and he was voted the Valiants Young Player of the Year in 1997 - a tough audience to please, believe me.
Things went awry at Vale Park under Brian Horton, who thought him too immature to be in his side that was to eventually be relegated from the Championship.
But even Horton recognised O'Callaghan had something a bit special and offered him a two-year deal, with Spurs and Bolton waiting in the wings. The young Irishman accepted but his fun-loving nature and re-hydration habits meant he never fully fulfilled his potential, or ambition and he returned to his native Cork.
O'Callaghan said: “I was young and a bit naïve and I got homesick. But in many ways that has helped me. I got my enthusiasm for the game back at Cork and I have grown up a lot. But I never wanted to be one of those that came back from England and just disappeared.
“I wanted another chance in England and this is it. I'm stronger in every way now, as a player and a person and I'm hungry to do well. Not many people get a second chance but I have and I will make the most of it.”
While with Vale he became a friend to the stars and played alongside Robbie Williams in a testimonial match for Martin Foyle, now manager, while the pop star is currently a major shareholder at the club.
O'Callaghan also became good friends with perennial world darts champion Phil 'The Power' Taylor, who still practises at the Saggar Makers Bottom Knockers pub in Burslem, across the road from where Robbie Williams' dad used to own the Red Lion.
His No. 18 Vale shirt still takes pride of place in the bar next to one of Taylor's shirts.
Although O'Callaghan played in an early round of the football league Trophy, then the LDV Vans, he missed out on a trip to Wembley and so, disillusioned, left England.
It did not take him long to win the fans over at Cork too, helped by a goal on his debut against Shelbourne, but things took a turn for the worse in the summer after a dismissal against Bohemians
Manager Damien Richardson fined him two weeks' wages, which was challenged by the player, backed by the PFA.
Richardson was livid and made it clear O'Callaghan would not play for Cork again while he was manager.
But O'Callaghan refuses to get all bitter and twisted and said: “That is all in the past and I'm not going to dwell on it. Cork is a fantastic club with some brilliant people there.
“They gave me a platform when I came back from Vale and I'll be grateful for that and the fans are absolutely magnificent.”
Slavia Prague, who Cork had played in Europe, were alerted and tried to sign him but a deal fell through at the last minute.
O'Callaghan was invited to train with Ipswich and Phil Parkinson at Hull City was also keen to have a close look.
But the Irishman was seduced by the Blues and quickly settled in. His hopes of impressing early on took a knock when he suffered a viral infection and had to return home to Cork.
Undeterred O'Callaghan returned, worked on his fitness and convinced Magilton he should sign him.
He said: “I loved it here from day one and although I had other offers I wanted to show my commitment early on.
“I'm fully fit and flying, a lot of that is down to Simon Thadani and I bet he is glad he doesn't have to see my ugly mug as much.”
The winning goal in a practice match against Millwall and another good showing at Watford underpinned what Town already knew, but striking a deal with Cork City proved a long and arduous process.
But for O'Callaghan the 18-month contract is a lifeline and he is determined to show that the wrangling was worthwhile.
He said: “I can't believe it has finally happened - I'm an Ipswich player at last.
“This is a great club with a fantastic tradition and wonderful history.
“Jim is doing a terrific job and I'm excited to be at the start of something that is going to be brilliant and be part of what is happening here.”
“It has been a long time and I have been getting grief off the lads so I'm glad it is finally sorted. The banter has been brilliant and it is one of the reasons I was determined to stick it out here and not go somewhere else.
“I have trained with a lot of the lads and feel very much part of the squad so it won't take any time at all to fit in.”
The Irishman could actually make his debut against Colchester on Saturday alongside Alan Lee, who was on loan at Port Vale, when O'Callaghan started out.