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O'Connor eager to enjoy his chances with Ulster having done the hard work to reach professional ranks

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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

�INPHO/Bryan Keane

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

All this really means a lot to David O'Connor. Becoming a pro had been part of the plan from a long way out, it's just that getting this far has been anything but a well-mapped out route.

Unlike older brother Alan, the junior O'Connor was brought into the Leinster fold via their Academy, and the former Blackrock College pupil - he won back-to-back Schools' Cups with the southern province's dominant establishment while playing alongside Garry Ringrose, Caelan Doris, Hugo Keenan and good friend Nick Timoney - might have been forgiven for thinking he was really going places.

Turning out for Ireland Under-20s in the 2015 Junior World Cup was another bonus, but then, two years later, it all crashed and burned as O'Connor was shown the door by Leinster.

While Alan lived the dream at Ulster, with Timoney north of the border too, David plugged away in the All-Ireland League and switched to Lansdowne in the hope there might be a chink of light into the pro game.

"It was tough enough," the 25-year-old remembers of those two years between being let go by Leinster and Ulster giving him a shot at being part of things at Kingspan Stadium.

"You never want to give up but it was a tough time. My parents, brothers and friends kept me in line about where I needed to go and what I needed to do."

An unexpected chance to be looked at by Ulster wasn't turned down and, with both Alan and Timoney in his corner, David impressed at his trial and took the development deal offered to him in summer 2019.

Now that his winding road has delivered him here, there is so much more to do for the player who can play both lock and back-row. Getting regular games is his driving force now.

The pandemic has meant that O'Connor has only featured nine times for his adopted province and made his competitive debut off the bench against the Scarlets this time 12 months ago.

Being involved again in today's clash with the side from Llanelli - he is again on the bench - is a huge deal for O'Connor, who has played just the two cameo roles so far this season when coming on as the back-up against Benetton and in last Monday's nine-try hammering of Zebre.

"For myself, any time I get on the pitch is something I've just got to try and enjoy," explains the native of Skerries in north county Dublin.

"I've got to make the most of my minutes and then go from there."

There is just that bit of added pressure as Ulster have gone six wins from six and no-one wants to be part of the side which falters for the first time this season.

"It's been a great start," says O'Connor who has had just the one start for Ulster, last December against home province Leinster when he lined out with Alan.

"The Scarlets will be coming with some confidence after winning at Connacht, but we look after each other and we're going to bring our game and, as for myself, I'm just trying to dish up every time I get on the park."

And, of course, having Alan around - who is three years older and leads Ulster today - has been hugely beneficial to the younger O'Connor.

"Definitely, yeah," says David.

"We'd always be talking to each other about the games and our own performance, so it's always good to bounce off each other and be honest with each other as well.

"If there is any way to bring the best out of each other, then honesty is the best way, and obviously it comes straight from the family."

His family network is clearly one of the fundamentals in O'Connor's journey so far.

"Without that support I had… that definitely pushed me on to where I am now, and I'm happy where I am now."

He now just needs to show he's a contender for more of the action.

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