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O'Dea in the eye of Ukrainian storm

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Darren O'Dea. Photo: Sportsfile

Darren O'Dea. Photo: Sportsfile

Darren O'Dea. Photo: Sportsfile

UKRAINE-BASED Irishman Darren O'Dea says he is taking no chances with his safety – or that of his family – as he tries to carry on his football career against a backdrop of chaos.

With 44 million people fearing for the very future of the country, the domestic football league is not a priority.

Donetsk, O'Dea's place of employment and residence by virtue of his contract with the city's second club Metalurh (big boys Shahktar are top of the league), has been the scene of protests and violence. As a result, O'Dea has been living not in his city-centre apartment but has instead been kipping at the club's training ground, while his wife and child are at home in Scotland.

Donetsk could become one of the next battlegrounds for Ukraine, the predominantly Russian-speaking city a place that may be lined up if Russia extends its land-grab and, while O'Dea believes media reports from the city have been over-dramatised, he remains on alert.

"I have lived in the training ground since I got back from pre-season, and you do fear for your own safety, but I do plan to move back into the city this week to get back to normal," O'Dea told the Herald last night.

"It's a small city so you see what's going on, there are protests here but it's more a case of the protesters standing around with banners than anything violent. But I am fully aware that one incident could see it all go off, and as you saw in Kiev, it can get very nasty, very quickly.

"My family are in Scotland still as it wasn't right to risk it and bring them here now but if it stays calm I will bring them over for a visit as it's hard being away from them," added the Dubliner.

"You have to stay on top of things. There was one day when things looked like turning nasty in Donetsk and I went as far as checking flights to the UK in case I needed to leave in a hurry, but things calmed down. You just go from day to day, and I know that life, people's lives, is a hell of a lot more important than football."

The restart of the league following the winter break was suspended by Ukraine's football authorities but play did resume last weekend, where O'Dea was an unused sub for Metalurh in a 1-1 draw with Illchivets.

But politics cannot really be kept apart from football when matters are as serious as the current situation in Ukraine. Next month, O'Dea's side are due to play home games against a club from Crimea, while, in May, they are expected to travel to Crimea.

"It's surreal, we had a game last Saturday which kicked off at the same time as one of the big protests," said O'Dea, who was disappointed to be omitted from the side last Saturday as he'd had a good pre-season.

HARD

"It has been hard to focus on football with all that has gone on, and we have been in pre-season mode for a long time now as the resumption of the league was delayed.

"We got back to normality last week with the league game, it was nice for us to get playing football again.

"We have our fixtures for the season laid out in front of us, but we are waiting to see if it pans out that way or if they will have to stop the league. Other clubs are more affected by events than us, especially the clubs in Kiev and Crimea, so it's a case of taking it day by day. That's what people here in Ukraine are doing, you wake up in the morning and get an update from TV or from twitter as to what happened overnight.

"I have been keeping up to date on it all. To me, a lot of what's happening is blown out of proportion. There were protests here in Donetsk but I don't think people got the true picture. I was actually driving through the city a few days ago and the pictures I was seeing on Twitter didn't match what I was seeing with my own eyes.

"It could develop into something more serious here but so far it has been calm, not like the full-scale rioting that you would think happened if you went by Twitter."

To that end, O'Dea – who would have been taught about safety in public areas from his time as a player on the green side of the Old Firm divide in Glasgow – remains vigilant and his agent has already been in touch with FIFA to check what would happen regarding player contracts if things get worse.

"No one knows what will happen," he admits.

"We are due to play in Crimea in a few weeks, will the Crimean clubs be still in the league then? There has already been talk that the Crimean clubs may have to play in Kiev, but how can they play football down there with what's gone on? Everyone in Ukraine is taking things one day at a time, that's how life here is. If things deteriorate I will be out of here, but I love it here. I love the people and I want to stay. But anyone who says they know how things here will turn out is lying."


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