Michael O’Connor is currently at a crossroads in his career.
Unwanted by Crewe Alexandra after a furious bust-up with manager, Gudjon Thordarson, the industrious central midfielder, who finished the season on loan with Lincoln City, was believed to be heading to Scotland after accepting an invitation to train with Hibernian as the SPL drew to a close.
Contract discussions however have never materialised with the Easter Road club leaving the 21-year-old with much to ponder of the summer.
The Imps have offered to take him on loan again but O’Connor, who still has a year to go on his contract at Gresty Road, accepts, due to his dislike of Thordarson, that he urgently needs a permanent transfer away from Crewe.
Therefore, selection for Saturday night’s international friendly in Pisa against world champions Italy could not have come at a better time.
And with the game live on BBC television, well after England’s World Cup qualifier has finished against Kazakhstan, O’Connor believes this will be the perfect shop window to display his talents.
“It’s great this match is live on TV hopefully a manager may see my performance and decide that I’m the type of player they need at their club,” says O’Connor, who will earn his sixth senior international cap tomorrow night likely to playing in a five man midfield which should consist of Grant McCann, Corry Evans, Niall McGinn and Crusaders’ Martin Donnelly.
“I’m not sure if Hibs are going to come back in for me — especially with manager Mixu Paatelainen gone. I haven’t heard anything and even though people have been saying I’m on my way to Easter Road there is nothing concrete to suggest that.
“I have an offer from Lincoln to go back out on loan but maybe the best thing at this stage of my career would be to get a good permanent move away from Crewe.
“That’s why I’m hoping to impress in this international, it could not come at a better time for me.
“My club football finished along time ago, but I’ve been in the gym every day for the past three weeks working on my fitness to make sure I’m in the possible condition to take on the Italians.
“That’s what I am concentrating on at the moment. If something happens with a possible move in the next few weeks then great, if not, I’m not going to panic. I’ve still a year to go on my contract at Crewe and will take time to consider all my options.”
O’Connor last played a senior international in the dismal friendly defeat to Hungary in November at Windsor Park.
Along with Keith Gillespie and Michael Duff, O’Connor was cast aside by boss Nigel Worthington for the World Cup qualifying victories over San Marino, Poland and Slovenia.
But O’Connor returned to international action in the B game last month against Scotland and now he hopes with a fine performance against Italy he can come back into Worthington’s thoughts for the vital qualifiers in September against Poland and Slovakia.
“It’s going to be an unbelievable experience to play against Italy and their star names like Gattuso, Grosso and Rossi — it’s a game I’ve been really looking forward,” concedes O’Connor, who actually captained Crewe last season and scored against Liverpool in the Carling Cup.
“I want to be back in the squad for the qualifiers in the autumn so this game against Italy is really important for me. I’m going to work hard in training to make sure I can give my all on Saturday night.
“I want to prove I deserve my place in the squad and the best way to do that is to play well against some of the finest players Serie A has to offer.
“The manager has always said he will reward those players who perform well for him and I intend to do that.
“It’s going to be extremely tough, the heat will sap our energy, however we’ll take on extra fluids and deal with it.
“We’re a young, inexperienced side while they all play in the top league in Italy but I’m confident we can give a good account of ourselves as we are all hungry to do well.”
And if O’Connor can keep his word to be the showstopper, his international and club prayers may just be answered on the same night in Pisa.