AT the opposite end of Rodney Parade to where Dick Uzzell's right boot downed the All Blacks, Mark O'Brien ensured he joined Newport's sporting greats.

O'Brien, who had spent his days trying to prevent goals since first playing for Cherry Orchard in Dublin, produced a strike that would arguably define his career.

For that career to end after 204 games is cruel but the 27-year-old enjoyed a high that few professionals get to experience.

That 89th-minute chest and volley against Notts County in 2017 kept Newport in the Football League, sealing the Great Escape.

O'Brien played 127 times for the Exiles, captained them at Wembley in the League Two play-off final and faced Manchester City, Spurs and Leicester in the FA Cup yet it's that magical moment that is first in the mind.

South Wales Argus:

"It would have been amazing just to be part of that, even if it hadn't been me scoring the goal," he said.

"For it to be my first ever professional goal and for it to be one that nobody would have expected, with me taking the ball down on my chest, makes it so good to look back on.

"It's a goal that I can still watch now and it gives me the same feeling of excitement and nervousness because we knew what was on the line.

"We had a great bunch of lads and the manager (Michael Flynn) came in to light a fire, from us as a squad to the city and to the fans. Things went from strength to strength and I was lucky to be part of it."

South Wales Argus:

Tributes have been flowing to O'Brien since Monday afternoon's news that his career was over because of a heart condition.

The Irishman had surgery when an issue was discovered while he was with Derby County's academy in 2009.

An annual check-up last week led to bad news from a medical specialist for the second time.

O'Brien signed a two-year contract last summer but has always known that he's a season-to-season player because of his heart.

The 2019/20 campaign was his last and very soon he will go under the knife again.

He has taken the transition to being a former footballer remarkably – O'Brien is quick to stress he is one of the fortunate ones.

"I am not looking for pity, I count myself lucky to get 10 years and love every minute, putting any shirt on and giving it my all," he said.

"When I first had a heart operation at 16, I got told by the doctors that football may or may not happen and that I might not be able to make a career of it because they didn't know how the valve would react to my body.

"I got told that it could last inside 12 months or a few years but I've been the lucky one to have 10 years.

"I am really proud to look back on the 10-year career that I have been able to achieve. I am gutted but this decision has been hanging over me for 10 years.

South Wales Argus:

"A lot of people from the outside never really knew about it because I was never one of these people that wanted sympathy.

"I got dealt those cards at 16 but always wanted to be judged on a level playing field. The fact that I was able to a 10-year career without many people knowing about it makes me proud.

"There has been a lot of adversity along the way, ACL injuries and microfractures, but if it was in my hands to play football then I would give it my all.

"I always knew that my career could be short-lived and I enjoyed giving everything to football. With the circumstances that I always had hanging over me, I wanted to leave it all out on the pitch."

County supporters enjoyed seeing that commitment since his arrival from Luton Town in January 2017.

"The last three and a half years, with the club going from strength to strength, has been a highlight along with my time at Derby, because if it wasn't for them and Nigel Clough then my career could have gone in a different direction," said O'Brien.

"Newport was really special. We went from almost being relegated into being giant killers and playing Manchester City, one of the best teams in Europe.

"We have always had belief as a club and we have built year to year with new players buying into it. To be able to captain that team makes me proud."

South Wales Argus:

O'Brien has been helped on the way by plenty of coaches since first playing as a Dublin youngster under Thomas 'Spud' Murphy.

"From the age of seven I played for Cherry Orchard for 10 years and had the same manager for that time," he said.

"He prepared me the best that anyone could because he wasn't like a normal manager on a Saturday or Sunday in the park.

"He was a very competitive manager that wanted to win and if you did something wrong he would tell you about it. He was brilliant for me and everybody else.

"I was captain of his team and for me to walk out at Wembley as a captain and him to be there watching was a proud moment.

"I will always be grateful to him and so many people who have given me a chance in football."

Now it's O'Brien's family and girlfriend Ellie that will provide the support as he prepares for an operation and the testing recovery period.

He intends to use the same approach that made it a memorable on-field career to thrive off it.

"I've got great people around me and I know there is a bright future for me after football and there will be opportunities to make a success out of something different," said O'Brien.

"If I am able to put so much passion and drive into my football like I did over the past 10 years with the difficulties that I had, that's only going to put me in good stead for whatever I put my mind to in the future.

"I am excited about that and thankful that I've been able to create memories when at the beginning not many people would have given me a chance."