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'I want to move on. I’m sick of hearing about it' - O'Donovan set to return from 10-match ban

The Irish striker was sent off in last season’s A-League Grand Final.

AFTER SERVING THE second-longest suspension in the history of the Australian top flight, Roy O’Donovan will return to action this weekend.

The Newcastle Jets striker has completed the 10-match ban he was handed as a result of his dismissal in last May’s defeat to Melbourne Victory in the A-League Grand Final.

ALEAGUE GRAND FINAL JETS VICTORY Roy O'Donovan (far left) is shown a red card in last May's A-League Grand Final. Source: AAP/PA Images

With his team trailing 1-0 in the closing stages of the title decider, O’Donovan was sent off after an incident in which his raised leg connected with Victory goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas as he challenged to win a free-kick that was sent into the box.

While O’Donovan pleaded guilty to the charge of serious foul play, accepting that his challenge was reckless and warranted a red card, the Corkman insisted that he was fully committed to winning the ball and did not intend to injure his opponent. 

In an interview in August, he expressed his frustration over the severity of his punishment: “I don’t portray myself to be any sort of angel. I play the game hard, but I play the game fair. The way I have been portrayed is hysterical, ridiculous and totally out of context to what actually happened.”

O’Donovan is now in his fourth season in Australia. He signed for Newcastle Jets ahead of the 2017-18 campaign after two years with Central Coast Mariners, who the Jets travel to face this weekend.

“As poor as the outcome was, I never meant to do that,” O’Donovan told The Newcastle Herald ahead of Sunday’s clash with the Mariners. “I couldn’t dream it up. It has gotten to the stage now where I am just looking forward to getting back on the pitch.”

He added: “It is important for me not to have any bitterness and hold any grudges. All I want to do is play football, score goals and win games. That has always been my drive in life since I was a young kid. That hasn’t changed.

“The lads here will tell you, I’m a good person, a good team-mate and a good person to be around. The perception outside of this perimeter is maybe something different. I can’t change other people’s minds. I can only play my game and be who I am. I will continue doing that.” 

ALEAGUE JETS CITY O'Donovan is now in his second season with Newcastle Jets. Source: AAP/PA Images

With O’Donovan absent, the Jets have struggled recently. Having finished second in the table last season, they’re currently seventh in the 10-team league with just two wins on the board. Manager Ernie Merrick is hoping O’Donovan’s return can spark a revival.

“There’s so much expectation on one player to turn around the fortunes of the club,” said Merrick. “I think he’s got the shoulders to cope with that responsibility. I would have no hesitation in starting him [on Sunday].”

He added: “As a person, he [O'Donovan] is terrific to have around this club. He’s great with the youngsters and you’ve seen the charity work that he does. I wouldn’t want him to change. He’s a competitor on the field and as a person off the field, you just don’t get any better.”

In the corresponding fixture last season, O’Donovan marked his Newcastle Jets debut with a 29-minute hat-trick. The former Ireland U21 international scored nine times in 15 appearances during an injury-interrupted first campaign with the Jets.

“I just want to be out there playing football,” O’Donovan said of his suspension. “I want to move on. I’m sick of hearing about it, talking about it and having to live through it.

“The beauty of me coming back now is that I’m an experienced player and my game is built around instinct and scoring goals. You don’t lose that over the space of 10 weeks. I’ll be fine.”

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Paul Dollery

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