MARK O’Brien, the scorer of the goal that secured Newport County AFC’s great escape, has been forced to retire because of a heart condition.

The 27-year-old defender had heart surgery in 2009 when he was with Derby County’s academy and a check-up has revealed that he needs to go under the knife again.

The Irishman is the second Exiles player in two years to have to retire because of a heart issue after Fraser Franks had to hang up his boots in March, 2019.

“The Club will be doing everything it can to support Mark at this difficult time,” read a County statement.

South Wales Argus:

O’Brien joined the Exiles from Luton in January 2017 and established himself as a club icon when he struck an 89th-minute winner against Notts County on the final day of the 2016/17 season.

That strike kept the Exiles in the Football League at the expense of Hartlepool, and helped them avoid potentially going out of existence.

The defender was club captain last season - he led them out at Wembley in the League Two play-off final against Tranmere but was sent off for two yellow cards - and passed a century of appearances for Newport.

After starting his career at Derby, O’Brien played for Luton, Motherwell and Southport while he won two caps for the Republic of Ireland Under-19s.

He played 127 times for County, scoring four goals, and ends with a career tally of 204 games.

South Wales Argus:

Speaking about his previous heart operation to the Daily Mail last year, O’Brien said: “I made my debut at the end of the 2008-09 season and after coming back for the new season we had these routine scans and they just said one day I had a faulty valve.

“The fitness coach had always said my heart rate was really high and I put two and two together and asked if it was down to the valve.

“I was taken to see the specialist and got told I wouldn't need an operation for 60 years. I then saw another specialist who did an MRI and said on a scale of 1-10, bleeding back into your heart is about seven. Suddenly alarm bells start.

“They were like, "You might not need an op for 20 years but we need to keep an eye on it". Then we were referred to a surgeon to get his opinion and we were in this tiny room — me, my parents, the physio and the surgeon — and he had a model heart in his hand.

“He said, "Your heart is three times the size it should be and if you don't have this operation soon you'll die this year".

“I'm like, "OK, what was that now?" Oh my god. I'd gone in weeks from making my debut at 16, to needing surgery in the next two weeks or maybe dropping dead on the pitch.

“What does a kid do with information like that? My only question was could I still play after I had the surgery? He said he couldn't guarantee it.'

“I came around in intensive care and I was in hospital for a week. At first I couldn't walk from my bed to the door without stopping and I was on seven tablets a day for four months.

“Nigel Clough was fantastic with me, really supportive, but it's hard to keep away dark thoughts about your career in that situation.

“I just remember telling myself if I ever made it back from that surgery, I would never doubt myself again.”

O'Brien was one of the Exiles players under contract for next season.