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Could this ex-schools GAA star be the next promising youngster to thrive at Southampton?

The 17-year-old Kilkenny native has been rewarded for his progress at underage level with the Saints.

O'Connor signs his first professional contract.
O'Connor signs his first professional contract.
Image: Southampton FC

SOUTHAMPTON’S YOUTH ACADEMY has become famous for its ability to produce young talent.

Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers are among the players that have come through the club’s system in recent times.

And 17-year-old Irish central midfielder Thomas O’Connor is one of the youngsters currently aiming to emulate the feats of Bale and co.

Today, O’Connor took a big step in his progression, as he penned his first professional contract with the club, signing a two-and-a-half-year deal, after only joining the club last year.

Speaking to the Saints’ official YouTube channel, the Kilkenny native — who has represented Ireland at youth level, in addition to featuring for the Southampton U18 and U21 sides — said: “It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was three or four years of age so it’s hard to believe that this day has finally come. I’m delighted.

I started playing soccer when I was about five and I went to a few clubs, but when I came to Southampton I knew it was the right place and I’m just delighted to be offered a contract here. There was no doubt in my mind that this is the right place to come.

“It was difficult at the start, but once I got into the swing of it and got to know the lads I just settled down and playing football every day is something you can’t beat.”

Having made four appearances for the U21 side towards the end of this season, O’Connor added that he was hoping to play more regularly for the team next year.

It’s a big step up, but once you get to know the lads there as well in that group and start playing with the lads day-in, day-out you improve too, and it’s always nice to make the step up.”

A talented athlete, O’Connor also caught the eye while playing GAA at schools-level prior to joining Southampton.

Last year, he hit 2-6 in a match-winning display, as Good Counsel College, New Ross, retained their Masita GAA All-Ireland Post Primary Schools Paul McGirr Cup title.

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Paul Fennessy

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