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O'Connor takes scenic route on journey towards Cup redemption

SOME players are late developers by nature, others have it thrust upon them. St Patrick's Athletic winger Seán O'Connor is one of the latter.

As a 17-year-old with Crumlin United, he was good enough to earn a trial with Preston North End, but any hopes he had of making a career across the water were dashed when he suffered a cruciate ligament injury on his return to Dublin.

However, he had been long enough at Deepdale to experience one of the hard facts of professional football -- courtesy of manager David Moyes, now in charge of Everton.

"We were brought to a first team game, and we were standing in the corridor at half-time when Moyes lashed into his players," recalls O'Connor. "It was the worst hair-drying I ever heard, and made me think 'what's going on here, what have I let myself in for?' I later experienced Johnny McDonnell, who could be a bit of a screamer, and Pete Mahon lost the rag with players at times, but nothing on the scale of Moyes."

O'Connor, who has been displaying the best form of his career this season, should have a huge say in Pat's attempts to end their 51-year FAI Cup famine when he lines out against Dundalk in the semi-final at Oriel Park today (3.55, RTE2).

It was McDonnell who signed him for Pat's and gave him his debut back in 2005. He was playing for the Irish amateur team at the time, and coach Danny Crowley, who was attached to Pat's, thought he was good enough to play League of Ireland and suggested he go for a trial.

"Johnny McDonnell offered me my first contract on a Tuesday and put me straight in the first team on the Friday against Waterford. We won 1-0, stayed up after a battle with relegation and the following year we made the Cup final."

O'Connor has bittersweet memories of that 2006 final, regarded by many as one of the best ever. "I've supported Pat's since I was a kid when my uncle Paul brought me down to the games, so that Cup final against Derry City was the biggest game of my career. I came on as sub at the start of the second half and, after it finished 2-2, I thought I had won it in extra-time when I scored in the 104th minute, but they got two late goals to win 4-3. With the wind and rain it was possibly the worst conditions I ever played in, but it was one of the better finals."

It's only six years since that game and, surprisingly, O'Connor is the sole survivor of that Pat's team, even if he took a couple of detours -- to Shamrock Rovers, where he won a league title, and Limerick -- along the way.

Now, with Derry City in the other semi-final (playing Shelbourne in the Brandywell, 1.45, RTE2), there is a very real possibility that the 2012 final could be a repeat of 2006. "It would be nice if it worked out that way," said O'Connor, "because I'd fancy a bit of revenge. It's definitely in my mind."

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However, being a true Pat's fan, he is taking nothing for granted. "I have seen Dalymount replays and penalty shoot-outs and losing to Longford -- it's got to the stage where some of the fans would rather win the cup than the league. We've been to so many finals and fallen at the final hurdle. This year we are probably favourites, but anything can happen on the day, and Dundalk have already beaten us."

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