O'Connor can square up to Offaly threat
AS PURISTS continue to bemoan the lack of clean catching in modern football, one player well suited to exploiting the new 'square-ball' rule will step onto centre stage in Portlaoise on Sunday.
Tomas O'Connor has already found himself under the 'square-ball' spotlight -- against Donegal last summer (in an All-Ireland quarter-final) when he scored a perfectly legitimate goal for Kildare that was incorrectly disallowed.
His ability to secure primary ball around the goal and pass it to team-mates has become central to Kildare's offloading game under Kieran McGeeney and has worked particularly well this year.
O'Connor finds himself in an interesting space this week, as the Division 2 champions finally make their championship bow against Offaly.
His father, Tomas Connor, a 1978 All Star, is part of a famous Walsh Island football dynasty and won a legendary All-Ireland final in 1982 and his mother is from neighbouring Daingean.
Had their son not been quite so persistent, it's the Lilywhites' full-back line or midfield he might be bothering this weekend, because the Clane player did toy with declaring for Offaly when his burgeoning Kildare career was stalling.
"It was possibly something I was considering," he revealed. "I wanted to play inter-county football and the (only) option at the time was to play with the Kildare juniors.
"It was only a thought at the back of my head, it was something I could have done because my parents were both from Offaly, but I said 'no, I'll stick with Kildare'. I stuck it out with the juniors and ended up getting back in with the seniors."
His 2009 form for the Kildare juniors eventually saw him recalled, but before that the 25-year-old's progress was repeatedly stymied by the sort of injuries that would test any player's commitment.
O'Connor made his senior inter-county debut back in 2005, a rangy 18-year-old who came off the bench in a qualifier defeat by Sligo in what was Padraig Nolan's last game in charge -- but between 2007-2009 he had five surgeries on his right knee alone.
"I tore the cruciate (knee ligament) in 2007, came back eight months later and tore the cartilage as well. That took me a long time to get back from," O'Connor explained.
"I did the cartilage two more times and then did my posterior cruciate ligament in the other knee afterwards. I never got that operated on, I built the muscle back up through gym work." It is not the only thing he has built up in the gym.
Like most of the current Kildare panel, O'Connor is now built like a brick outhouse and his physicality at full-forward is something defenders find particularly difficult to curtail.
But his football skills have also improved greatly in the last two years. He may be a natural midfielder -- he alternates between there and the forwards for Clane -- but, having finally got hold of the Lilies' No 14 shirt, he doesn't want to relinquish it.
Dropped for the Dublin game last summer, he came back in for Kildare's qualifier against Laois and laid waste to the O'Moore men's full-back line.
O'Connor has been ever-present since and was one of just six Kildare players who played in every league game this year, chipping in with a scoring tally of 0-5.
He reckons the new 'square-ball' rule won't make much of a difference to how teams play this summer.
"It will help referees but for players, all it will mean is that you don't have to worry so much about where you're standing. I don't think it will change anything tactically," he said.
"I don't mind the type of ball that's coming in. High or low, it makes no odds to me, I'll fight for it," he said.
If the Faithful County were playing anyone else this weekend he'd probably be shouting for them but, in this case, it's Kildare who have benefited from some great Offaly football genes.