The 34-year old says he never once contemplated retirement when returning for a 10th season with the Cork footballers and yet he is forever being edged towards the exit door by “stupid little injuries”.
O’Connor twisted his ankle when introduced as an early second-half sub against Mayo at the end of March and feared a reoccurrence of the ankle injury which sidelined him for Cork’s entire Munster championship campaign last summer.
The diagnosis was an inflamed bone in his foot, O’Connor sidelined for almost eight weeks — the league semi, final and first round of the local club championship all passing him by.
“It was the most stupid injury I’ve ever come across, a bone underneath my foot got inflamed and wouldn’t settle down,” says O’Connor.
“If it was the same injury as I had before, maybe I would have been frustrated, but I had never even heard of this thing before.
“I didn’t train at all that week after the Mayo game, it was ligaments and they needed to settle down. This came on me on a Saturday morning and it was weird, given I hadn’t trained or played all week because of my ankle.
“I just couldn’t understand what it was. I was getting annoyed that other lads were getting annoyed, ‘He’s just coming back and he’s injured now again’. That was more annoying than anything, to be fair.
“I probably missed two weeks and it wasn’t getting better and then I had to go and see a fella. He told me to stop for a full four-to-six weeks, so, overall, it wasn’t far off eight weeks.”
Ballydesmond manager Sean Kelleher, a close friend of O’Connor, said there would be no pressure put on the 2010 All-Ireland winning forward to line out in their intermediate opener against Kanturk at the beginning of last month. At 34, the priority is to be bouncing off the physio table come the “business end” of the year.
“I do find now it takes a more physical toll. After a match it definitely takes two or three days to get over it, whereas before I’d play two games in two days no problem, or play Friday night and train on Sunday morning. Not anymore.”
O’Connor returned for Ballydesmond’s second round tie against Millstreet, kicking six-points from left half-forward. And despite starting in two league games this spring, he admits he’ll be “pretty annoyed” if not included in Brian Cuthbert’s starting team.
“I’ve trained well in the last few weeks. If I’m not [in the starting line-up], you’d be fairly confident you’d see some game-time. If you’re sulking for two or three days and let it sink in, then you’re not going to be right come the day. You know yourself if you’ve made an impact. There are more days I’ve come off the field disappointed than days feeling happy with myself.
“There are three or four of us in that boat at the moment – if I don’t get in and someone like Pa Kelly does, how can you argue with that?” No longer assured of a jersey numbered one to 15, what exactly sustains O’Connor’s grá for life at the top table?
“The stupid little things drive me, training on a nice evening, you go out earlier and kick a few frees and have a bit of craic with the lads.
“There’s a lot more to it than the craic, but 50 or 60% of it is the craic alone, whether it’s club, Duhallow or Cork. You get on well with everyone and you’d miss that.
“At the end of the day, you’re in it for the one thing and that’s to win the All-Ireland. We mightn’t be top four at the moment but we genuinely do think that once we start performing to our full potential, we’re not far away from that. We’d give anyone a game really if we’re well up to it on a given day.”