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Why Ulster is a home from home for David O'Connor after debut delight

Big chance: David O’Connor is determined to seize his
opportunity in the professional game and follow in the footsteps of brother Alan
Big chance: David O’Connor is determined to seize his opportunity in the professional game and follow in the footsteps of brother Alan

By Michael Sadlier

It was a debut to remember for all the right reasons.

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Never mind the fact that fellow first-timers Sam Carter and Matt Faddes were always likely to receive more scrutiny and, indeed, youngsters Graham Curtis and Ethan McIlroy also grabbed attention, this was still a special moment for David O'Connor.

His shot at professional rugby, albeit via a development deal, also came with the right result at his new Kingspan Stadium home, while there was also a very special personal moment as alongside him in the engine room was older brother Alan.

The pair gelled pretty well in the 50-19 hammering of Glasgow, with Alan's familiar work rate dove-tailing with some neat handling and carrying from 24-year-old David.

Both made way as Dan McFarland emptied the sizeable bench in the first of the two pre-season friendlies against the club who swatted Ulster aside in last season's Guinness PRO14 semi-final, with the second hit-out coming tomorrow at Scotstoun (kick-off 2.30pm).

"It was a great day for the family," said David, whose 27-year-old brother has been at Ulster since moving north back in 2012.

"I played against him once for St Mary's against Ballymena (in the AIL).

"He hit me hard and I knew in the first few minutes that he was trying to take my head off. But I'd have done it the same way and, really, I'm pretty used to it," added O'Connor, while pointing out that, after all, he is the youngest of three brothers in the family.

David mentions that, though another signing from south of the border, he already has a feeling of connection with all things Ulster thanks to his big brother.

"He (Alan) came up here around eight years ago now and ever since then I have been pretty much supporting Ulster, as have the family who have been going around and following him," said the former Leinster Academy player who was let go in 2017.

"And it's definitely been good fun having him here as well."

David can play both second-row and back-row and, after moving from St Mary's across Dublin to Lansdowne, he felt that he wanted a shot at professional level, and he got that when offered a trial at Kingspan Stadium last season.

"I moved to Lansdowne to maybe get to the pro game and I thought it was the best opportunity I had to get there," he said.

"Now I'm up here to impress and add value to the squad."

O'Connor also name-checks close friend Nick Timoney as assisting in the hardly difficult task of persuading him that Ulster would be a decent enough move. He and Timoney both attended Dublin rugby stronghold Blackrock College and played together in the Leinster Schools' Cup double-winning sides of 2013 and 2014.

"Me and Nick have been best buds since third year at school. He was also a great pull to try and get up here with all the advice he gave," said O'Connor.

And, of course, the trail north is a well-worn one now, with senior squad members Dave Shanahan, Greg Jones, Eric O'Sullivan, John Cooney, Jordi Murphy, Jack McGrath and Clive Ross also having made the switch.

Laying a claim to a regular starting spot will be quite another matter with Carter, Kieran Treadwell and big brother Alan all ahead of him at lock - a certain Iain Henderson has also to return - while the back-row is its usually ultra-competitive self though, admittedly, will be missing Marcell Coetzee for a bit yet.

"Being here has all been unreal so far," stated O'Connor.

"But I want to be the best version of myself that I can be."

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