O’Brien reveals dark side to AFL career

THAT MOMENT: The former St Patrick’s College student pumps his fist after booting his first AFL goal during a round 22 clash against Richmond in 2012.NICK O’Brien is not unlike many of the footballers that realise their dream of playing in the AFL, only to have just a fleeting impact on the game.
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BOMBER: Nick O’Brien looks to pass during the round 19 match against the Greater Western Sydney Giants this year. Pictures: Getty Images.

O’Brien’s career at the elite level never really got going – he played just 14 senior games across four years before being delisted by the Bombers last month – but his time in the system will never be forgotten.

The Ballarat boy was front and centre during Essendon’s supplements program, which has haunted the powerhouse club for the past few years.

And while he admits to being involved in the Bombers’ injection program, O’Brien is able to press on playing the game he loveswithout the fear of sanction.

The 22-year-old, who revealed he is not one of the 34 past and presentEssendon footballers issued with an infraction notice for their part in the scandal, is gearing up for a season with SANFL clubWoodvilleWest-Torrens, which he hopes can ignite a return to the big time.

O’Brien admits to having “about five or six” injections during his time at Essendon and feels lucky to escape without aninfraction notice.

REBEL: O’Brien in action for the North Ballarat Rebels during the 2011 TAC Cup season. Later that year, O’Brien was drafted to the Bombers.

“There was one or two first-year (players)that were the same year as me that got notices, but they were certainly getting 20-30 injections that year, which is a pretty big number,” O’Brien told The Courier.

“I had a couple throughout the year. I didn’t think too much of them at the time and from the feedback I’ve received from ASADA, it was all (above)board.”

FOCUSED: O’Brien marks the ball during the Bombers’ round 17 match against Port Adelaide Power at Etihad Stadium this year.

O’Brien said he had been told by former Essendonsports scientistStephen Dank that the needles were forimmunityrather than anything sinister.

“As a young kid, you just trust what people say, I suppose. Don’t you?,” he said.

HAPPY TIMES: O’Brien celebrates his first ever AFL win after Essendon beat the Western Bulldogs in round 16 of season 2013.

O’Brien admits he thought the program was normal practice and believed his injury at thetime spared him from being fully involved in the injection process.

“As I said as a young kid, I was pretty up front in…I was pretty enthusiastic about the program we were on – unfortunately it was proven to be a little bit unorganised,” he said.

“It’s probably somethingin yearswe will look back and say it probably wasn’t the club’s best moment, but I certainly didn’t have any reservations at the time, so I can’t really look back now and say that I regret this or regret that. It’s just the way it happened at the time.

“I just thought that’s what sort of everyone was doing.

“It is what it is and I just hope that all the boys can get off in a couple of months time when they get the verdict again.”

O’Brien said it has been sad to see many of his former teammates struggle mentally with the intense pressure of the past few years.

“I think without naming names, you see people whose dream it is to play AFL like mine was and that’s all you want to do as a young kid and to see them not enjoy doing it and almost feel like a chore to rock up and train and play,I just think … that did shock me a fair bit…” he said.

“I’ve been alright, but there wasdefinitely times where I felt a little bit worn down by it all, to be honest.”

O’Brien sayshe still has a good relationship with sacked coach James Hird and stresses he will always be thankful for the opportunity given to him by the Bombers, Carngham-Linton, St Pat’s and the North Ballarat Rebels.

As for the future, he just wants the boys in red and black to enjoy some rewards for their hard work.

“It would be great to see them have success because what they have been through the last couple of years in such a public manner has been really sad to watch and sad to be apart of,” he said.

Ballarat Courier

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