As soccer grips even the most casual fan across the country with Canada playing in the World Cup, one local native playing abroad has always loved the beautiful game.
Aodhán O’Hara is living up to his hometown club’s name and is roving across the soccer world, living his dream on the pitch. The 23-year-old former Barrie resident is now living in Spain and playing for Manchester 62 in the Gibraltar Football League.
O’Hara says while growing up in Barrie, it was clear that soccer wasn’t the most popular sport.
“It was always hockey, baseball, football and even lacrosse that most kids would play," he tells BarrieToday. "Soccer wasn’t a big deal here unless you played or coached it.
“The good thing was it was easier to watch for those who excelled at it, because they were clearly focused on the game.”
While O’Hara played multiple sports and grew up with a dad who loved hockey, he says he had to make a choice in his mid-teens.
“I had to quit hockey the year before my OHL draft year, because hockey obviously takes precedence over other sports in Barrie. So if I missed hockey for soccer, I’d be benched and likewise if I missed soccer for hockey I may go back down as I was a level above where I should have been,” he says.
“I clearly made the right choice.”
A graduate of St. Joan of Arc Catholic High School in south-end Barrie, O’Hara left for University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and eventually got a bachelor's degree in psychology on a Division I soccer scholarship.
From Alabama, he spent a year in California before heading back home to Barrie.
O’Hara has seen the game of soccer become a big deal in not just the whole country, but locally as well.
“It's really exciting, I’m loving it. Even my friends who were never soccer fans are getting into it," he says. "They go to Toronto FC games and Canadian Premier League games and have become big fans. It's also really exciting that the Rovers are doing what they’re doing and local fans can get to a high-level game.”
The Simcoe County Rovers FC are the city’s League1 Ontario club and finished a successful first year this past season, making it to the semifinals before a 2-1 loss to the eventual champions, the Vaughan Azzurri.
O’Hara played six games for the Rovers before heading to Ireland to play with the Finn Harps in the first division of the League of Ireland.
“I absolutely love everything they’re doing with the Rovers. I remember when the announcement came we were getting the club and I knew I had to play for them somehow,” he says. “Some of my fondest memories were playing in the Barrie Soccer Club system and at the pitches in town. It was lined with people I knew and family and friends cheering on the team. That's what it is like now, but at a much higher level.”
As an attacking midfielder, O’Hara scored his first professional goal last weekend and added an assist for a two-point game. The game had an added benefit as his dad was in the stands.
“That was very special because my dad was visiting and got to see it,” O’Hara says. “After that we went to watch Real Madrid versus Celtic FC.”
Being in Gibraltar, O’Hara is seeing how 'real' being a professional soccer player is.
“I’ve been away from home for about five years, but this is the most real it has felt. You’re not being babied like you may be in university,” he says. “I’m on my own in my own apartment; there's money on the line now. My first two weeks here, we had two bad results and next thing you the coach lost his job.”
While loving where he is now, O’Hara admits a dream would be to play for his family’s favourite club.
“My grandpa is a huge Celtic FC fan. They are everything in our family, so that would be the coolest thing,” he says. “For now, though, I would just like to keep competing and adding to the club I’m with.”