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Dublin: 1°C Thursday 21 January 2021

'I would have looked at Alexis Sanchez a lot...up until recently'

Cork City’s exciting new signing Daire O’Connor chats to The42.

Daire O'Connor, with Dundalk's Dane Massey during the President's Cup.
Daire O'Connor, with Dundalk's Dane Massey during the President's Cup.
Image: Ciaran Culligan/INPHO

EVERY TIME DAIRE O’Connor got on the ball for Cork City against St Pat’s last Friday night, he brought at least one man to his feet.

(The Cork fans, in fairness, were already standing). 

Each of O’Connor’s involvements led the on-looking Pat Dolan to stand up and turn around to the press box, proclaiming, ‘The Irish Messi’, done to reinforce the same point he made in his Irish Daily Star column earlier that day. 

“I saw that”, laughs O’Connor with The42. ”Listen, it’s a great compliment but I won’t let it go to my head. If I have one hundredth of the career Messi has, I’d be very happy.

“But if I see Pat again soon I’ll shake his hand and say thanks very much for that.”

O’Connor made his league debut for Cork in the opening night defeat at Richmond Park, and was their best player.

An electric winger, virtually all of Cork’s best attacks came through him, and only Brendan Clarke’s superb save from Gary Buckley’s header denied him an opening-night assist. 

“Ah man, I was right on the byline, I pulled it back for Buckley and I’d say if it was one or two inches [further to Clarke's left], it goes in.

“Anyone watching would argue we probably deserved a point, but they are the margins at the top level.”

This was O’Connor’s first taste of the top division. Having helped UCD gain promotion last year, the 21-year-old took the opportunity to join Cork in the off-season. 

O’Connor is a fluent Irish speaker, and having completed his undergraduate degree in Irish and Computing, he put a masters’ in Computer Science on hold when Cork swooped. 

“I’ve been waiting almost four years to make a Premier League appearance. It’s everything I expected it to be: big crowds, great atmosphere, flares…you don’t get any of that in the First Division!

“It is second nature to everyone else but it was my first experience of it.

“Look, the result didn’t go our way, but from a personal point of view it’s a dream come true to make the step up.

“The atmosphere, everything was brilliant.” 

O’Connor spent two-thirds of the game playing on the right-hand side, before moving centrally to play as a number 10 at the tip of John Caulfield’s midfield diamond. 

“People ask me my favourite position, but I always say an attacker. Vaguely enough!

“Whether I’m on the wing or playing as a number 10, I’ll still play my game: run at them and cause them some problems.

“I’m enjoying playing on the wing and getting to the byline, as we have some big men in the box. So if I can beat my man and get the ball in the box, that’s my job done.

“Maybe add a few goals, then I’ll be happy out.” 

While O’Connor may be flattered by Dolan’s ‘Irish Messi’ comparison, he has modelled himself on another South American, once a teammate of Messi’s at Barcelona. 

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“To be honest I would have looked at Alexis Sanchez a lot…up until recently when it all went south.

But when he was at Arsenal, he was direct, jinking in and out of players and he had that end ball more often than not. So if I could anyway replicate Sanchez’ glory days at Arsenal, I’d be doing alright.”

Sitting behind Pat Dolan on Friday night was Mick McCarthy, and if the Irish boss was as impressed with O’Connor, he chose not to articulate so in the direction of The42.

“Listen, that’s the dream” replies O’Connor when talk turns to international football. “I’ve been wearing Irish jerseys since I was born; I’m a very Irish man, and given recent weeks, it’s important to put that out there! 

“I’ve represented Ireland at U19s but didn’t get a look in at U21s, unfortunately. But if I have a good year or two at Cork, who knows what can happen. 

“I suppose it is a long-term goal, yeah. But in the short-term I need to get into the team regularly and start scoring goals. People start noticing when you start scoring goals.”

Daire O'Connor receives his Player of the Tournament trophy O'Connor poses with his Player of the Tournament gong at last year's Collingwood Cup. Source: Philip Magowan/INPHO

 Getting among the goals is O’Connor’s next target, having quickly met his first.

“After Christmas, with all the players we were signing, my main goal was to make the squad.

“We had a panel of 25, and obviously I was coming from the first division, I wasn’t really well known and people probably thought I wouldn’t adapt, and I suppose I had my own doubts.

“I wasn’t really in the starting team in pre-season, but then out of the blue against Dundalk [in the President's Cup] I was told I was starting, and didn’t have much time to think about it.

“It was definitely a step up in pace but you get better playing with better players and against better players, so I took it in my stride.

“So if I can get a run of games and get a couple of goals, I’d be more than happy with myself. My first goal was just to make squads, so delighted.”

Games either side of the weekend at home to Waterford (tonight) and away to Sligo Rovers (Monday) give Cork a couple of quick-fire opportunities to atone for the Inchicore, and that they take both of them is O’Connor’s immediate priority. 

“We said it collectively.

“We’ll wipe [the defeat to Pat's], analyse it and learn from it, but we have two quick-fire games against Waterford and Sligo, and if we have six points on Monday evening the critics will turn away.

“Dundalk drew as well, so as for the league and the top three, four; nothing is decided yet for a long, long time.” 

O’Connor will likely get a first league start against Waterford tonight [KO 7.45pm], as Cork have a couple of injury issues: Gearóid Morrissey – who was forced from last Friday’s starting line-up with a hamstring injury – remains a doubt, and there is further uncertainty over the availability of Karl Sheppard, Shane Griffin, and Tadhg Ryan.

John Caulfield is expecting a “frantic, hectic” game against Waterford… although Cork might find some order at O’Connor’s dancing feet. 

Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey look ahead to Ireland’s Six Nations meeting with Italy and discuss the week’s biggest stories in the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Gavin Cooney

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