'That is why I went to Celtic, to play first-team football'

After playing a starring role for Ireland over the past week, Lee O’Connor is hopeful similar success with the Scottish giants is around the corner.

Lee O'Connor pictured playing against Sweden at Tallaght on Tuesday night.
Lee O'Connor pictured playing against Sweden at Tallaght on Tuesday night.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

IT’S BEEN QUITE a rise for Lee O’Connor.

Over the space of the past five months, the full-back has lined out for the Ireland U19s, U21s and senior team, making 15 appearances for his country in total at all these levels in 2019 alone.

On Tuesday night at Tallaght Stadium, he showed why he is so highly rated, as the hosts defeated Sweden 4-1. The 19-year-old scored Ireland’s equaliser, popping up in the centre-forward position to turn home Adam Idah’s cross.

Throughout the game, he caused the Swedes problems, with himself and Zach Elbouzedi wreaking havoc with their persistent raids down Ireland’s right.

The past week has capped a fine few months for O’Connor, as the teenager did not look at all out of place making his Ireland senior debut against New Zealand last Thursday, before reverting to U21 duty and helping Stephen Kenny’s side pick up a vital win that consolidates their place at the top of Group 1.

“It’s surreal really, unbelievable. I’ve never turned down a chance to play for my country, I don’t think I ever will. It’s something I’ve wanted to do. I want to go [on international duty]. It’s a privilege and an honour for me to play for my country. So that’s all I’m worried about. Every time I’m asked to play, I’ll be there for a country.”

He continues: “It was nearly a complete performance in the second half [against Sweden]. It was a very poor first-half performance. Luckily, today we got away with it. On other days, we can’t do that.” 

O’Connor’s next target will be securing first-team football at club level. He was probably one of the players Kenny was thinking of when the manager said after the match: “I know there is not enough of our players playing every week, but hopefully it won’t be too long before a lot of them are.”

The Waterford native spent four years in Man United’s underage set-up before joining Celtic last September. There is no sign yet of a first-team breakthrough, but O’Connor is remaining optimistic in that regard.

100% that’s what I want to do,” the player added. “Hopefully this week [with the Irish team] can help that. I think I’ve performed quite well in the two games. Hopefully they see that and definitely that’s what’s next for me and that’s what I want to do.

“I feel there are opportunities there. That is why I went there [to Celtic] ultimately, to play first-team football. Whether that comes this year or next year, I’m just biding my time. Hopefully, when I get thrown in, I’m showing him I should be staying there. 

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“I was at Manchester United for four years, there’s competition wherever you go. Celtic are a top club, there’s going to be competition, but it’s not a bad thing. I hope to get better, train every day, improve [rivals for a first-team spot], so it’s a good thing in my opinion.”

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Paul Fennessy

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