Mick O’Brien – Part 2

by Gavan Bergin

On March 16th 1922, Mick O’Brien joined Leicester City. Two days later, he made his debut and helped them get their first win in six games.  From then on he was an automatic starter for Leicester and by the end of the 21/22 season he was their first choice centre-back.

When the 1922/23 season kicked off, Mick was a crucial player in Leicester’s challenge for the league title. They racked up seven wins and two draws from theirifirst ten games, which put them top of the Second Division in early October 1922. That impressive run was founded on sterling work by Mick and the defence. That defensive strength gave the team security and freedom to get forward in greater numbers, and Mick did his bit in attack too sometimes. In December 1922, Leicester began to select him in midfifield and he had no trouble playing there. But, however good he was in midfifield, he was better in defence and the team was better with him there too. Without him at the back, Leicester’s results had taken a turn for the worse and they’d slipped down the league table. By early February 1923, they were out of the running and in seventh place.

Mick O'Brien, footballer
Mick O’Brien, footballer

But then, Mick returned to defence, and Leicester won five and drew two of their next ten games. During that run he was able to contribute in attack as well as defence. On March 10th 1923, he scored his first goal for Leicester, in their record 7-0 win against Wolves at Filbert Street. Then, on March 31st 1923, he scored again in Leicester’s 3-0 home win against Port Vale. According to the Leicester Evening Mail, “a special feature of the game was the magnificence of Mick O’Brien. He showed the instinct of a forward, and his goal was a great piece of work.” That win put Cityifirst in the league standings again, with six games left to play in the season.

They just needed to maintain their recent form to win the Division Two championship, which would be the first major trophy ever won by the club. And, almost as importantly, winning it would earn them promotion to Division One, for theifirst time since 1907. After beating Port Vale they soon had an opportunity to make that outcome more likely.

On April 2nd Leicester were at home to Fulham, who were one of best teams in the league that season. And when the game started they immediately showed how good they were. From the kick-off, they attacked hard, putting Leicester on the defensive straight away, pushing them back then keeping them penned in their own half for the first five minutes of the game. After six minutes City managed to break out for the first time and they made a good attack that ended with a near miss. But when that move broke down, Fulham counter-attacked and scored in the seventh minute.

Leicester were a goal down and they deserved it. They had been second best from the start, although they did improve as the half progressed and after the early onslaught, Mick and the backline were highly effective in dealing with the opposition attacks, easing the pressure so that Leicester were free to get forward. But even when they did get possession in dangerous areas, they didn’t use it well. There was no spark, no inspiration, and every one of their attacks fizzled out. At half-time it was still 0-1, they were still losing and their season was still on the line.

When the second half kicked off, in the first minute or two nothing much happened for Leicester except that a couple more measures of time had passed by to bring the bitter end closer and closer. Though there was still plenty of game left to play, they had the look of losers – until Mick came from nowhere to make his mark on the game.

Early in the second half he began to play like a protosweeper, moving out of defence and into midifield. He got on the ball and took charge, passing and moving and shooting and constantly attacking the Fulham goal. His intensity and creativity turned the tables for City who started to attack and attack and attack, and it didn’t take them long to get their reward. Three minutes into the second half they scored the equalising goal to make it 1-1. Then as soon as the goal was scored, Mick moved back into defence.

Having done his bit in getting the equaliser, he now concentrated on making sure that it wasn’t thrown away. And that was no easy task because Fulham were far from finished: they came back again with relentlessly furious attacking, and it seemed impossible that they would not get at least one more score. But though they tried and tried again, they were denied and denied again by super defending that saved the day. When the final whistle sounded the score was still 1-1. Leicester had rescued the draw and the valuable point, bringing them another little bit closer to success and glory. Mick’s role in the team’s good run was acclaimed in the papers. According to the Birmingham Evening Mail, “O’Brien’s sparkle has seen Leicester to a wonderful and welcome return to form.”

After his outstanding performance against Fulham, Mick was inifine form again for Leicester in their next game, a hard fought 0-0 draw at Port Vale on April 7th 1923. That result kept Leicester top of the league, with four games to go. If they could just keep going as they had been for another few weeks, the championship was theirs – and they’d be playing Division One the following season.

Everything was going grand and all was well until, out of nowhere, disaster struck. Mick got injured against Port Vale, and he didn’t play again that season. Then Leicester fell apart, they lost two of their last four games and eventually they finished two points behind the champions Derby County. They not only lost the league, they lost promotion as well. Even though they finished level on points with West Ham, Leicester had an inferior goal difference. Because of that, West Ham finished second and they got promoted. Leicester finished third and they got nothing but disappointment and another year in Division Two. At least they had Mick O’Brien on their side for the hard season to come.

Read more:
Mick O’Brien – Part 1
Mick O’Brien – Part 3
Mick O’Brien – Part 4