Wednesday 8 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
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# Cyprus Avenue
'Phenomenal unsung hero' bids farewell to Cork City with Spanish inquisition
Kevin O’Connor will play his final home game for the club tomorrow night before moving to Preston North End.

KEVIN O’CONNOR WANTS to contribute to a performance Cork City can be proud of in his final game for the club at Turner’s Cross.

The attack-minded left-back is still set to play three times for the Leesiders before moving to English Championship club Preston North End with striker Sean Maguire.

However, the first leg of the Europa League second round qualifier against AEK Larnaca tomorrow night will be his final City game at home. The Premier Division leaders travel to Bray Wanderers on Sunday before their second leg in Cyprus a week on Thursday.

O’Connor’s impending departure hasn’t received as much attention as that of Maguire, who took his league tally for the season to 19 goals in Sunday’s win against St Patrick’s Athletic. Nevertheless, O’Connor is happy for his friend and team-mate to hog the limelight.

“Obviously he [Maguire] is the goalscorer and he’s earned everything he’s got,” said the Wexford native. “To me he’s the best player in the league. He’s deserved every bit of it. I’m just delighted for him. Long may it continue for him.

“It’s going to be very hard to leave this place,” added O’Connor. “They’ve been so good to me and the fans have taken to me from minute one. I couldn’t have asked for any more. To go out now and perform on Thursday and give them something to be proud of, that’s all we want to do.”

O’Connor knows that City will go into their tie against AEK Larnaca as underdogs, but aided by their experiences in the Europa League last year, the FAI Cup holders won’t be daunted.

Michael Barker with Kevin O’Connor Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

After eliminating Linfield in the first round, City overcame Swedish Cup holders BK Hacken, with O’Connor scoring the only goal of the second leg at Turner’s Cross. KRC Genk were too strong in the third round, although John Caulfield’s side gave a fine account of themselves in a 3-1 aggregate defeat to a team who went on to reach the quarter-finals.

AEK Larnaca travel to Cork with an experienced side, several of whom have played in La Liga. The Cypriot outfit have 12 players from Spain in their squad, as well as a predominantly Spanish backroom team, led by head coach Imanol Idiakez and technical director Xavi Roca, a former Barcelona player.

O’Connor said: “I don’t think you should be daunted by anybody you go out and play. Obviously they’re going to be very good players. There’s a lad there who’s got 83 appearances for Atletico Madrid. You don’t get that if you’re a bad player. But we’re good players as well and we just have to go out and prove that on Thursday.”

Ahead of his final game at Turner’s Cross, John Caulfield paid tribute to O’Connor, who has been one of the City manager’s most consistent and reliable performers since his arrival from Waterford United in April 2015.

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“Kevin probably isn’t getting any of the limelight because of the fact that Seanie is the goalscorer, but Kevin has been with us for two-and-a-half years, he played midfield in 2016 cup final, he’s slotted in as our regular left-back, he’s had opportunities to go and has decided not to because he settled here really well.

Kevin O'Connor celebrates scoring their second goal from a free kick Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“He believes the club is the right place for him, which it was, but he’s been phenomenal. Obviously he was capped by the Irish U21s and he was a bit of an unsung hero really because he’s a left-back. He’s been fantastic,” Caulfield said.

With family travelling from Wexford to watch his final home game for the club, it’s set to be an emotional occasion for the O’Connor. However, he’s keen to point out that nothing matters more than ensuring Cork City have a positive result to bring to Cyprus next week.

The 22-year-old said: “It’s a massive game for the club. It’s not about me or Seanie, it’s about getting the win for the club. That’s all it’s about. I’m just hoping the fans turn out in full force and get behind us from minute one, which I’m sure they will.”

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