jake o'brien for Lyon

Breakout Star Jake O’Brien Should Get International Senior Debut

Youghal native Jake O’Brien has emerged as one of Ireland’s hottest talents after a breakthrough season for Ligue 1 side Olympique Lyonnais. The 22-year-old led the forefront of Lyon’s revival after a disastrous start to their campaign. With impressive defending and slick passing, O’Brien is on the cusp of a senior international debut. 

The Beginnings of Jake O’Brien

Before being Ireland’s only representative in Ligue 1, O’Brien started his journey in the seaside town of Youghal in County Cork, where he learned the sports of boxing and hurling. He was successful in both by winning the U14 National Championship. 

He kicked off his footballing career by playing for Cork City in the League of Ireland before earning a loan move to English side Crystal Palace in February 2021. The move became permanent in August 2021, making appearances for the Palace U23 team. 

In January 2022, he earned a second loan to another English side, Swindon Town, where he made 21 appearances for the League Two side. This earned him yet another loan but this time to the Belgium League with R.W.D. Molenbeek, where his Crystal Palace teammate Luke Plange joined him. O’Brien got his first taste of silverware after Molenbeek secured the division in the 2022–23 season. 

Lyon Breakthrough

Signed as a prospect for Ligue 1 side Lyon in August 2023, Jake O’Brien became the first player to step foot into the French league since Tony Cascarino in 2000, when he made his debut in October. 

O’Brien first caught eyes when he scored a crucial goal against Stade Rennais FC in a 1-0 win, leading to Lyon’s first victory after a disastrous start to their Ligue 1 campaign. His goal showcased the eagerness the French club’s fans were demanding after he bullied past Rennes captain Benjamin Bourigeaud to leap his side out of relegation. 

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The Youghal native slowly became the heartbeat of Lyon’s revival after becoming the first defender to score a brace for Les Gones since Marcelo in 2021, when he faced RC Lens in a 3-2 defeat.

Performances like this are how Jake O’Brien has become a fan favourite and benched former Liverpool player and UCL winner Dejan Lovren. His praise was solidified in December 2023, when he was named Player of the Month. 

An unforgiving season saw the likes of former World Cup winners Laurent Blanc and Fabio Grosso sacked; Lyons’ season kept spiralling out of control. With the team finally finding form in December, a good part of it was due to O’Brien, who was signed basically because he was a cheap option. Not only is he a goal threat but his possession stats and tackling are quite impressive, with Lyon consistently giving him praise. According to SofaScore, the 22-year-old has an 88% pass success rate per game.

A Debut, Perhaps?

Ireland is currently in what some call the “Golden Generation” of talent and Jake O’Brien fits into that category, alongside others such as Ogbene. After his impressive breakout season for Lyon, he is destined for his international senior debut. With former Manchester United defender John O’Shea becoming the interim manager of the Republic of Ireland, a lot of questions remained unanswered. 

No one can predict the future of this “Golden Generation” or who will lead them into the future but one certainty is that Jake O’Brien will be on the front lines of yet another renaissance, this time for his country.

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It is time for the centre-back to make his international debut for the Republic of Ireland.

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