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Walking away from the game

Two years ago, Conor O’Malley was in the Ireland squad but now he’s home from England and has no intention of going back


Conor O’Malley arrives for training in Abbotstown in May 2018

Conor O’Malley arrives for training in Abbotstown in May 2018

Conor O’Malley arrives for training in Abbotstown in May 2018

As an out-of-favour footballer with a contract that expires on June 30, the assumption is that Conor O'Malley is in the dark about where his career stands right now.

But the 25-year-old knows exactly what he's doing, and that is walking away from the sport, regardless of whether this English season resumes or not.

The Peterborough goalkeeper is back home in Mayo, still undergoing the training routine laid out by his employers and mapping out his runs on the Strava app. He will honour his contract in that regard.

However, he doesn't see football returning in the near future, and envisages that his next trip over the water will be to gather up his things and leave for good.

Less than two years after a call into the Ireland senior squad, the ex-St Patrick's Athletic netminder is actively seeking employment in the financial sector, the world he left behind in order to pursue a career in sport.

That's why the Covid-19 crisis has left him in an unusual position.

Other footballers who know they have no future with their current employer are wondering if they will be asked or told to stay longer than planned because of a new timeline for the campaign, when their priority is to get fixed up elsewhere.

O'Malley has received PFA circulars which have told members not to negotiate wage deferrals on a stand-alone basis before the collective stance is agreed.

Yet he's clear in his own head that he wants out at the end of June in every scenario, even if it transpires that the 2019/'20 season must continue into July and August.

He's hopeful that manager Darren Ferguson, the son of Alex, will be understanding seeing as two other goalkeepers are evidently well ahead of him in the pecking order. O'Malley, a €100,000 buy in August 2017, hasn't played a senior game in over a year.

"I'm not in the squad, and I would be going back to Peterborough for nothing," O'Malley said earlier this week from the family home in Westport where he is seeing out the lockdown period with his parents, his girlfriend, his brother and his brother's girlfriend.

"I would prefer to cancel my contract as normal on June 30. I'm in a different situation as I'm not wanted."

The player concedes that the club would be entitled to adopt a different attitude if he had another club lined up. There have been enquiries and they were batted away.

Peterborough learned of his intentions to go in another direction after he rejected a loan switch to another Football League outfit earlier this year.

"I was meant to go out on emergency loan and I turned it down," he explains. "They were surprised, it was a perfect move, I was going to play, but it just wasn't what I needed at the time. I had to sort of tell them then.

"I've made the decision across the last year as I wasn't enjoying it. I wasn't really enjoying it since I went to England. When the manager changed his mind, and he didn't want me, that was actually a relief to me and that shows I shouldn't be playing."

O'Malley has made 34 appearances with Peterborough, falling in and out of fashion under successive managers. The high point was a run of games that earned him an invitation into the Irish senior camp two summers ago.

He sampled a few minutes of action against a Celtic XI in Scott Brown's testimonial although it doesn't go down in the books as an international cap.

His feet were on the ground then, though, with O'Malley's media appearances around that promotion revolving around the theme that football was just one aspect of his life plan. He completed a maths degree in Maynooth while he was playing with St Patrick's Athletic and went on to gain work experience as an actuarial consultant.

Even after he moved to England, he continued studying for his CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) qualifications, and the Irish elevation actually forced him to cancel his next set of exams.

Therefore, his CV has secured him interviews with prospective employers, and he's following current affairs at the moment with another hat on given that coronavirus is radically altering the global financial picture.

"It changes everything," he says. "I've been reading lots of articles on the impact on investment and life insurance and pensions. Every aspect of (being an) actuary has been affected in some way."

His announcement is likely to cause a stir in the League of Ireland, and possibly in GAA circles too, considering that he was first choice for Mayo minors in his youth.

The plan is to work in Dublin and live in the Kildare area, close to where his girlfriend Máire Bright grew up. She is also an actuary and found a job in Peterborough so she could move over, but they both craved relocation.

O'Malley's plan is to take a complete break from sporting endeavours for the rest of the year and then see how he feels. He isn't definitively ruling out a return on a part-time basis down the line, but a full-time commitment is off the cards.

"The League of Ireland isn't really a long-term career," he says. "I would prefer to come back and take six months off.

"I might feel like I want to go back and play football then. Within a couple of months, I might be bored but whether I go back at a high level, it just depends on how I am feeling. I can have a good career doing something else. That's what made it so easy to make the decision. If I didn't have something to come back to, then maybe it would be different."

The close friends and family who know are supportive of the decision. O'Malley is a private person and deliberated over whether to make his news public at this juncture.

After taking a call from the Irish Independent, he initially spoke about staying fit and having time to size up football options before coming clean and confessing that he wasn't a good liar.

Peterborough gave him permission to make the dash to the ferry last Monday week when it became apparent this break would be a lengthy one.

Prior to that, they had tested their entire squad for Covid-19 after they came into contact with a Portsmouth side that reported positive cases.

O'Malley got the all-clear and the longest stint he's spent on Mayo soil since his teens is functioning as a window to prepare for a leap to another world, where logic outstrips emotion as a guiding principle. He is confident his thought process is adding up to the right decision.