Reduced glare of spotlight is welcomed by O’Dea

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SINCE being relegated from the Premier League in 2004, Leeds United have never been far from the headlines.

At first, it was the multitude of off-field problems that took the club to the brink and then League One that kept the club in the public eye.

More recently, it has been the more positive on-field exploits, including promotion and a few welcome doses of Cup glory.

In fact, such has been United’s ability to find the spotlight that many of those who have passed through Elland Road over the past few years made a point of saying life at Leeds was akin to living in a goldfish bowl and quite unlike anything they had experienced before in their career.

For Darren O’Dea, however, the opposite has been the case with his season-long loan switch to West Yorkshire having taken him away from the powder keg atmosphere of Glasgow football.

“I am loving life in Leeds,” said the Dublin-born 24-year-old Celtic defender. “It feels like another world, mainly because of the intensity that can be found in Glasgow.

“I love Glasgow. I moved there at the age of just 15 and will return to live there when I have finished football. But the intensity that accompanies football can make it a bit difficult.

“The fans are fanatical down here but I can go into Leeds city centre and enjoy a meal without any problem. I couldn’t do that in Glasgow. Being a Celtic player, it is like living in a goldfish bowl.

“In England, there are famous footballers like Wayne Rooney and so on walking the streets. But in Glasgow, despite us being nothing like Rooney or any of the others as footballers, we are treated the same. We are the most famous people in Glasgow.

“Even small things such as going for dinner meant I became paranoid. I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder because I never knew what was going to happen.

“Someone would be looking at me and I would be wondering if they were a Celtic fan or a Rangers fan. And if they were Rangers, you wouldn’t know what they were thinking.

“I had a few experiences. I don’t mean nights out, either, as things could happen at 3pm when I was shopping.

“Now I live in Leeds city centre and love just walking round the shops. But the centre of Glasgow would be the last place on earth a Celtic or Rangers player would want to live. It would not be where I would want to spend a day off with my wife and kid.

“It may sound like me being very down about Glasgow but I promise you that isn’t the case. As I said, it is where I will go back and live one day.

“I also owe my whole career to Celtic and as a club I can’t speak highly enough of them. The same goes for Glasgow as a place to live. The people are also fantastic but the intensity around the football is massive.

“When things are going right then it is great. But if they aren’t then you have to accept that you can’t live life to the full.

“I love being able to relax down here and have time to myself. It is one of the reasons why I am really loving it here in Leeds.”

O’Dea’s happiness with his new surroundings will, no doubt, have also been helped by how the opening third of the season has gone at Elland Road.

United may have lost in midweek at Birmingham but the seven-game unbeaten run that preceded the visit to St Andrews means Simon Grayson’s side came into the weekend sitting fifth in the Championship.

That they are likely to have fallen at least a couple of places by the time tomorrow’s home game with Cardiff City kicks off is, therefore, of little concern to O’Dea.

The Republic of Ireland international, who boasts two league title winners’ medals from his time at Parkhead, said: “The Championship is such a tight league that one win could see us go second, while one defeat could leave us 15th. So there is no point getting carried away with any one result.

“What matters is trying to show a bit of consistency. Before coming to Leeds, I’d had a couple of spells in the Championship (with Reading and Ipswich Town) so knew to expect plenty of teams can be in the play-off places at Christmas but then way down the table come May.

“It is quite a contrast to Scotland and I like that. I have been in Celtic games when we dominated the full 90 minutes. We would be 2-0 up at half-time and then it was a keep-ball session.

“That didn’t happen too often, despite what some people in England may think. But in the Championship, a team can be 2-0 up in a game and yet not safe.

“It seems in the Championship that only when a team is 4-0 in front can they think a game is won, and how often does that happen?”

O’Dea has been an ever-present in the league since moving south in August, though that run almost came to an end on Wednesday night when he was fortunate to avoid what would have been a fifth yellow card of the season following one particularly lusty challenge at St Andrews.

In those 13 games, the on-loan defender has already bagged two goals with his strikes against Coventry City and Peterborough United being of such quality that they would have pleased any striker.

As enjoyable as the two finishes were, however, O’Dea believes his contribution to United’s ‘goals scored’ column should be higher.

He said: “I feel confident defending set-pieces so there is no reason why I shouldn’t be more dangerous at the other end.

“It was nice to get on the end of two chances after the ball had dropped to my feet but I want to start scoring with my head. Certainly, the quality of Robert Snodgrass’s delivery means I should be getting on the end of more free-kicks and corners.”

The scoring touch is one thing that has eluded O’Dea in international football, his 12 senior caps with the Republic of Ireland yet to yield a goal.

Next month would, therefore, be the perfect time for O’Dea to break that duck as the Republic take on Estonia in a two-legged play-off for a place at Euro 2012.

The United defender, who was yesterday joined in the Irish squad for the November 11 and 15 qualifier double-header by Leeds team-mate Andy Keogh and Hull City’s Paul McShane, said: “It is scary to think that next summer we could be involved in the European Championships.

“Estonia are a good team but I remember the 1994 World Cup when I was seven years old and the euphoria it caused around the country.

“I don’t recall the games but the feeling around our area was brilliant and it would be great to help recreate that.”