Magpie Harry O’Brien Magpie Harry O’Brien
Harry O’Brien has always invested himself, absolutely, in everything he has done. Before he was a footballer he was willing to pay his own way to Melbourne, train with Collingwood and do his best to win a spot on the rookie list. His persistence helped his club find a premiership player.
As a footballer, O’Brien has worn his heart on his sleeve from day one. He has always had a deep social conscience, and felt compelled to express himself. He has always wanted to go places, see things with his own eyes and bring them to the attention of others. He cares about HIV-infected orphans in Africa because he has met and spent time with them.
At times, he has been portrayed as almost too much of a good guy. As if one day he is doing things he doesn’t have to do, reminding the world that footballers aren’t all bad, and then the next day is just a footballer again. Either way, he has always done much more than merely attach his name to charities and causes. ”The only thing you can accuse Harry of is caring too much about everything that he does,” was how his teammate Dale Thomas saw things last week. ”If that’s the worst trait you’ve got, you’re going all right.”
It is for these reasons that O’Brien deserves what he has now requested: the chance to deal with what sounds like some distressing issues without constant questioning. His absence from Collingwood’s team last week became a story because he is in the best Collingwood team, because it was not fully explained and because he took time off.
It was also reflective of an industry, the media, that has grown, that is competitive, that wants to know more and more, and where an opinion that says ”just wait …” is not really considered an opinion, or enough of one. It happened at a time where social media has given many more people than those in the traditional media a voice, often a harsh one. Ironically, the question most of the speculation seemed to ask, ”He walked out over that?” That has now answered itself.
It was hard to watch O’Brien talk about the things on his mind when he turned up to train again on Tuesday. It’s sad, if inevitable, to think that this time next week everyone will be asking whether he’s going to play football again on the weekend. O’Brien is surrounded by friends and at a club that will be looking after him, and only he can judge what he should and shouldn’t be affected by.
Equally it is up to him to sort things out, because while football clubs aren’t normal places of employment, only he can know whether he can get on with things at Collingwood now or whether he needs to step away for longer.
But he is also a good reminder the footballers we watch, scream at, stick up for and boo for two hours on a weekend are just people, who have things going on in their lives that we often don’t know about.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.