Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

I can be Northern Ireland's perfect middleman, says O’Connor

Confident young midfield warrior Michael O’Connor believes he is the player to answer Northern Ireland’s injury crisis and steady the World Cup qualifying ship.

O’Connor is in line for his first international start on Saturday night against Slovenia with his pal Sammy Clingan out injured and Chris Baird likely to be moved back into defence if Jonny Evans fails to recover from a horrendous virus.

The 20-year-old Belfast lad is expected to join forces with Rangers’ Steven Davis in the centre of midfield and he’s itching to get his chance.

O’Connor is desperate to showcase his talents on the biggest stage possible with the prospect of a move away from struggling League One Crewe in the January transfer window a real possibility.

O’Connor, who signed with Crewe as a schoolboy, has impressed coming on as a second half substitute against both Scotland and the Czech Republic – now he wants to be part of the action from the start.

“I want to play on Saturday,” confesses O’Connor.

“I will not hide the fact.

“I know Steve Davis and Sammy Clingan are ahead of me in the pecking order for the central midfield positions, but I feel I’m ready now that Sammy is unfortunately out injured to take his place.

“Coming on as substitute in a couple of games has whetted my appetite for big-time international football and I’m dying for a start.

“I know that it is a massive jump from League One football up to international standard but it is a challenge I will relish.”

O’Connor, who scored against Liverpool in the League Cup at Anfield last month, has already proved this season that despite his tender years he shows great maturity and is a leader on the pitch.

Crewe boss Steve Holland acknowledged this by naming him as captain for their last two matches.

“I was so pleased to be given the armband on Saturday – after all I’m only 20,” he added.

O’Connor could now play an important role for Northern Ireland on Saturday night but at one stage the Irish FA felt they had lost his services to our southern neighbours.

The midfielder, though, insists that even though he had a spat with then Under-19 coach Mal Donaghy and was then subsequently contacted by the FAI, he never seriously contemplated playing for the Republic of Ireland.

“It’s always been my ambition to play for Northern Ireland and I never thought about playing for the Republic,” he said.

“I played for the Northern Ireland under 16 and under 17s and really enjoyed it.

“Then I had issues with Mal Donaghy, who was at the time coach of the Under 19s.

“While I was out of the Northern Ireland international fold, the Republic rang me asking if I would consider playing for them but I never actually played a game for them.

“In a way I suppose I was waiting for the call from the Northern Ireland Under 21s and that thankfully came from Roy Millar.

“Now I’m in the senior side I want to play a bigger role.

“I so hope that it is on Saturday.”

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