Best of the Rest: Quarter-century later, Southold’s O’Brien still Suffolk scoring king

SUFFOLK TIMES FILE PHOTO | Greg O’Brien (21) scored all four of Southold's goals in a 4-2 win over Poland High in the 1983 state championship game.

Bob Feger still has the old Suffolk Times stories from the Southold boys soccer team’s state championships in 1984 and 1985 hanging on his wall.

Then a newcomer to the North Fork, Feger inherited a First Settlers team that had won a title in 1983 after a district rule forced the former coach to limit his varsity coaching to one sport.

Southold’s state championship three-peat, and the school’s six state titles over a seven-year span dating back to 1979, stands to this day as one of the great team sports accomplishments in North Fork history. And the right foot of a striker who played on all three of those teams has been immortalized in Suffolk soccer history.

More than 25 years after he played his final high school soccer game, Southold’s Greg O’Brien still holds the county’s all-time scoring record.

O’Brien’s career mark of 111 goals scored between his freshman season in 1982 and his senior year in 1985 is 25 goals above the next name on the list, John Alberda of Commack. The two are the only Suffolk players to score more than 75 goals in a career.

“He was a goal scorer,” Feder said. “A true goal scorer.”

That much was evident very early on in O’Brien’s career. After scoring 10 goals his freshman season, O’Brien showed his nose for the net in his sophomore campaign, when he scored 38 goals to best Steve Foy’s 1981 school record and led the First Settlers to the first of three state championships. To this day, only William Floyd’s Angelo Lopez, who scored a mind-bending 51 goals in 1972, has ever scored more goals in a Section XI soccer season.

O’Brien scored all four of the First Settlers’ goals in their 4-2 1983 state championship win over Poland High.

O’Brien would go on to score 34 goals his junior season, making him the only Suffolk player to boast back-to-back 30 goal seasons. He would then come within one goal of doing it a third time, when 29 of his shots blasted the back of the net in 1985.

O’Brien even saved one of his best performances for last, when he scored a hat trick in the First Settlers’ 9-2 victory over Section V Angelica in the 1985 Class D title game.

At the time of his graduation, O’Brien’s 111 goals ranked him second best in New York State history, and he is currently 19th on the state’s all-time goals scored list.

So how’d he do it?

“I just had a lot of great teammates,” said O’Brien, who now works for an insurance company in Ohio. “And it was also just such a small school, I was fortunate I got to play as a freshman.”

With only 42 students in the Southold class of 1986, three members played all four years of high school on the varsity soccer team: O’Brien, Jack Gallagher and Kevin Santacroce.

Greg comes from a long line of O’Brien soccer players, five boys in all with Greg being the youngest, who each played soccer for Southold.

Greg also played baseball in the spring, starting as catcher on a team coached by his father Tuck.

“I didn’t realize how much I missed baseball until I stopped playing,” he said.

But soccer was always his first love, and he would go on to play four years with mixed results at Boston College.

At the high school level though, O’Brien simply had a knack for scoring.

Feger recalls one time when O’Brien scored so quickly, the officials weren’t even sure he’d scored at all.

“He picked up a pass and was cutting across the top of the box when he unleashed a shot that was just so hard and clean it hit the back of the net and dropped out,” the former coach and longtime school administrator recalled. “Everybody was looking around asking ‘Did it go in?’ ”

Not the fastest player to ever run a soccer field, O’Brien was actually more explosive when he had the ball in front of him, Feger says.

“He could split defenders as well as anybody,” he said. “And he was a true sportsman.”

Feger recalls one game when O’Brien and the First Settlers were dismantling a South Fork squad so effortlessly, O’Brien took himself out of the striker position before his coach even suggested he should. He played the rest of the game at sweeper, taking away the opportunity for him to score anymore goals against an inferior squad.

“I remember that,” O’Brien said. “I just didn’t want to be taken out of the game. That was my way of staying in.”

As it turns out, O’Brien didn’t need to score any more goals. And a quarter-century later, the record books still prove just that.

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