The 'crazy start' to O'Neill's Korean adventure
Pohang Steelers and Australian midfielder Brandon O’Neill gives us an insight into his move to Korea and some of the challenges that he’s faced from living abroad amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
O’Neill’s dream move overseas arrived in January this year - on the eve of the coronavirus outbreak that caused shockwaves across the globe.
After years of being touted for a move abroad, his time finally came when Korean giants Pohang came knocking on the door at the end of last year.
Over the last four months, the 26-year-old has had to deal with a whirlwind of changes from adjusting to life in a new country as well as coping with life in lockdown in one of the first countries to introduce COVID-19 restrictions.
“It was a crazy start to my Korean adventure. It was a big thing for myself moving overseas for the first time. It’s difficult enough and then throwing a pandemic in, your head would be scrambled eggs on toast and that’s how I probably was for around the first two and a half, three months,” O’Neill revealed to Socceroos.com.au.
The ex-Sydney FC midfielder briefly returned to Australia for personal reasons and it was not before he returned to Korea that he kickstarted his overseas adventure.
“It kind of felt like beforehand because coronavirus was here, it hit really bad here, so you didn’t know where the league was going and when it was going to start,” O’Neill said.
“Once I got back and did the quarantine, we knew then the league was going to start and it was just a confirmation date, once we got that, it was just get myself as fit as I can.”
Last Saturday saw him play his first match in over four months after being sidelined with an injury prior to his arrival in Pohang.
The defensive midfielder was handed a place in the starting eleven away to Daegu and was overjoyed by the thrill of playing competitive football.
“That whole day nothing else matters, I realised that your mind is solely on the job at hand and you just go out and put your best performance in and win a football match,” O’Neill said.
“I really missed that feeling.”
He had a debut to remember as he played a vital role in his side’s only goal as they drew 1-1 and as a result moved up to third position on the K League ladder.
“I didn’t try and overcomplicate anything, I didn’t want to go out there and be the star player, I didn’t want to go out there to make a name for myself,” O’Neill said.
“I wanted to go out there and do what I know I can do and play good football.”
Now that the Perth born midfielder has finally got to experience Korean football, he cannot wait to see what the future holds.
“I’m so excited for the next six months over here. Knowing that I’m going to get the opportunity to get more minutes in my legs and to be match fit,” he said.
“Just playing in that game, I feel like once I get over that hurdle and can kick into a next gear in 60, 70 minutes, I feel I can have a right good crack here in Korea which really does excite me.”
Playing behind closed doors without any fans looks to become the norm for at least the next couple of months.
O’Neill gave the Socceroos.com.au an insight into what it’s like to play in an empty stadium and the measures that the K League have taken to make it feel as ‘normal’ as possible.
“They’ve recorded the fans chants and the fans atmosphere, and they’ve just literally blasted it for 90 minutes, it’s great,” O’Neill exclaimed.
“The only time you feel a bit weird is if you score because then it goes dead silent and you can hear yourself celebrating, so that’s a bit weird.
“Apart from that when you’re playing, as long as you don’t look up into the crowd, you dead set feel like you’re playing in a sold out stadium, it’s great against Daegu.”
With his first game out of the way, the 26-year-old’s focus will now turn to his next match this Friday. Meantime, he returns to the classroom on Tuesday to start Korean classes with his partner Nicole.
You can catch O’Neill this Friday night as his Steelers’ take on FC Seoul at the Steelyard Stadium at 8:30pm (AEST).
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