DOB: 16 March 1872
Died: 5 April 1962
From: Xavier College/Austral
Victorian state player - 1894
An athlete from a young age, O'Dea was one of his school's finest footballers and had already made a name for himself at 15-years-old, winning a bravery award for rescuing a woman from a shark attack at Mordialloc beach.
Referred to as one of "the best junior goalkickers" in town when he was recruited by Melbourne in 1892 - along with new teammate Harry Graham - he made his senior debut against Ballarat April 1892 and scored the first goal of the game.
By June he was already being noted as being a class above his teammates for his "long-drop kicking". Despite his reputation as a goal-kicker he was also often pressed into service in defence, and from his second season onwards he became a midfielder/winger. In 1894 he was chosen as an emergency for the Victorian team to play South Australia.
He remained with Melbourne until midway through 1895 when he joined Essendon. He then interrupted his football career in 1896 to travel to America, where he became a nationally famous football player at the University of Wisconsin.
Legend has it that O'Dea's introduction to the American brand of football came by accident. He was on route to Oxford University in England to continue his law studies, but dropped in at the American university on the way to visit his brother who had found his way to the US as part of the support crew for a boxer and later became a rowing coach.
Its said that during the meeting Patrick picked an American football up and kicked it down the field. The university football coach was impressed by his ball handling and strong kicking and convinced him to finish his education in Madison instead of going to Oxford.
Once he began playing football O'Dea was a revelation, and his amazing kicking skills forced other sides to dramatically alter the way they played the game. With field goals still worth five points each his damaging boot meant that it could far easier for O'Dea to roost a goal on the run rather than work the ball across the line for a touchdown. He was soon dubbed the "Kicking Kangaroo" and became one of the most popular players at the university.
In 1899, a year when he'd had to lead a rally to recruit players and ensure that the Wisconsin football program wasn't halted, he was named All-American fullback. After graduating he only sparingly used his law degree, first coaching Notre Dame in 1900 and 1901 and Missouri in 1902 for a total record of 19 wins, 7 losses and 2 ties.
He eventually moved to California and practiced law before disappearing without trace in 1917. It was thought that he'd joined the Australian Army as units passed through San Francisco on their way to the European theatre of World War I and that he'd been killed. Even his brother thought he'd been lost in the war, and when the end of the conflict came without him reappearing he was soon forgotten.
It wasn't until 1934 that he was tracked down, living 240km north-west of San Francisco under an assumed name. He explained his mystery disappearance by saying that he just wanted to start a new life. Under his new identity he'd become treasurer of his town's Chamber of Commerce and a respected local businessmen. After his reappearance he returned to the University of Wisconsin to a hero's reception and became a well known college football identity again.
In 1951 he was named to the College Football Hall of Fame. He remained in the United States for the rest of his life, dying in San Francisco.
Played a game/games in 1894 as 'O'Grady'
Some sources say he coached Stanford not Missouri. This is incorrect but he is reported to have helped with their rowing team in 1914.
"Opening of the football season" - The Argus 07/05/1892
The Argus - 13/06/1892
The Argus - 14/07/1894
"Pat O'Dea comes to light again" - Burnie Advocate 16/11/1934
"The forgotten story of Patrick O'Dea" - Guardian Australia 08/03/2014