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Dublin: 1°C Sunday 7 March 2021

Impressive O'Connor not expecting to stay with Irish senior team

The Celtic youngster is set to return to the U21s ahead of their crucial qualifier at home to Sweden on Tuesday.

Ireland's Lee O'Connor pictured during the warm-up last night.
Ireland's Lee O'Connor pictured during the warm-up last night.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

LEE O’CONNOR PRODUCED an assured senior debut last night as Ireland overcame New Zealand 3-1 at the Aviva Stadium.

The full-back looked comfortable on the ball and got forward well, with a personal highlight being the stunning cross he produced for Callum Robinson to head home for Ireland’s third goal.

With Seamus Coleman suspended, Matt Doherty is the only other recognised right-back currently in the senior squad and is set to start against Denmark on Monday night.

However, O’Connor’s performance against the All Whites suggested he could be a more than capable deputy if needed.

The Celtic teen has been a regular at U21 level and was called up to the senior squad partially on account of the fact that he was suspended for Stephen Kenny’s side’s qualifier away to Armenia yesterday.

The original plan was for the former Man United youngster to return to the 21s ahead of Tuesday’s vital match at home to Sweden. Has McCarthy been tempted to keep O’Connor with the senior squad on account of his impressive display last night?

“I don’t know, you’d have to ask him that,” he says. “As far as I know, I’m playing against Sweden on Tuesday.

I caught the first half [of the Armenia game], I didn’t see the second half. It obviously puts us in great stead for Tuesday’s game, which I’m looking to be involved in again.

“We’re a very together group in the U21s. I’m enjoying it. You kind of have to stop for a minute and take it all in. It’s been a crazy few months, but very enjoyable.”

Nonetheless, Waterford native O’Connor, who is still waiting to make his first-team debut at Celtic, enjoyed his stint with the seniors in what he hopes will be the beginning of a long career at international level.

“My whole family came up and my friends,” he added.

“It’s what every kid growing up wants to do. It doesn’t get much better than that, to be honest.

“Everyone was very welcoming, they just told me to do what got me here, I’m here for a reason.

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“[Mick] was just saying it’s another game of football, just go out and play, go out and play. First and foremost, defend, get forward and get crosses into the box, which I thankfully did.

“Obviously Robbie [Brady]‘s left-footed. He was going in most of the time [on the right-hand side], so it kind of played into my hands, I could get on the outside and I thought we worked well together.

Of course, there’s a big step up. But I think I did well. I’m happy with my performance, so hopefully it’s the first of many.”

And as for his spectacular assist for the third goal?

“I just got it on my feet, whipped it in and obviously Callum was in there, so it was a great moment for me.”

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Paul Fennessy

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