Sunday 18 February 2018

O'Connor determined to follow in O'Shea footsteps

Ireland’s U-17 captain Lee O’Connor. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland’s U-17 captain Lee O’Connor. Photo: Sportsfile

John Fallon

He has never compromised with his ambitions, so Ireland's U-17 captain Lee O'Connor holds no fears about tomorrow's European decider against Germany.

Only victory in their final group game in Rijeka will guarantee Colin O'Brien's side their passage into the quarter-finals, though a draw or even defeat could be enough depending on the result from the game between Serbia and Bosnia Herzegovina.

Accepting such challenges is part of the 16-year-old defender's mindset.

He is the sole Irish-born player still with Manchester United and doesn't subscribe to the notion of him being there just for his three-year apprenticeship.

O'Connor played his part in salvaging Ireland's group fate by starting in the 2-1 win over the Bosnians last Sunday when news filtered through afterwards that another of his team-mates from United's U-23 side, Axel Tuanzebe, had been granted his first Premier League start by Jose Mourinho.

"Manchester United were the club I supported and always wanted to play for," O'Connor said.

"I could have signed for a smaller club but feel I'm good enough to break through for United.

"They have the best players and coaches to work with. Nicky Butt is head of the Academy and someone I've learned a lot from him in the first season.

"United will help me to become the best player I can be. There were six players from our U-23 squad called up to travel with the first-team squad to Arsenal, which shows United are still a club that gives young players their chance."

Negotiating his way through this underage tournament and a career at United was something another Waterford teenager took to 19 years ago.

John O'Shea first came to prominence as a mainstay of Brian Kerr's U-16 Euro champions in Scotland and, though silverware is a long way off in Croatia for this group, the latest Deise export to Old Trafford doesn't underplay the capabilities of the team, which has won all seven competitive games he's started in this season (the Waterford teenager missed the defeat by Serbia because of an ankle injury).

O'Connor has been compared to O'Shea since his childhood and embraces the similarities, given how much regard he has for the 36-year-old Ireland centurion.

He's also optimistic about making an impact on this Euros tournament in Croatia just like his predecessor did in 1998.

"Being from the same county as him, John was a player I have always looked up to," he explained.

"Hopefully I can have a similar career to John. I hadn't known him before I went away to Manchester United last year but he's been very nice any time I've met him since.

"This is now a Cup final for us and we're all confident of beating Germany.

"We're playing at the European finals and didn't come here to get knocked out in the group stage.

"We've had a strong season so far and, on our day, are capable of beating any team."

Irish Independent

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