Instead, O’Connor arrived in Ireland on Wednesday from San Diego and will complete the 16,000km return trip next week, hopefully having played his part on the pitch in getting Killarney Celtic to the final of the Aviva- and Umbro-sponsored FAI Junior Cup.
If that happens - and while Celtic will have home advantage in tomorrow’s semi-final, they face the might of defending champions Sheriff YC at 5pm – O’Connor will be making his third transatlantic voyage, and will have clocked up a staggering 48,000km for the cause.
O’Connor won a soccer scholarship to Saint Xavier University in Chicago in 2008 but he returned home, primarily to focus on playing Gaelic for Kerry. He had two years with the county U21s and progressed to the senior panel in 2010, making his debut in the League against the Dubs alongside friend, former Celtic man and future All-Star, James O’Donoghue.
He won a Munster championship medal that year but could never establish himself and remained on the margins. He was introduced during last year’s Allianz League final, also against Dublin, but too many other areas in his life were suffering so he gave up on that dream.
Among those was Killarney Celtic, the club his parents revered. O’Connor could not but have been influenced by the passion Packie and Noreen have for Celtic and to be back in the green and white thrills him.
“I came on against Dublin in the League final last year, which was my first time to play in Croke Park” reflects O’Connor. “It would be kinda cool if we could somehow beat Sheriff – they’ll be tough opposition – but if we could beat them, I’d have played in Croke Park and the Aviva in just over a year. I had sacrificed loads of things, holidays I couldn’t go on because I was training, so it was a time in my life when I wanted to move on. I was delighted to go back playing soccer before I went to San Diego with my girlfriend Aisling after finishing college, on a year’s visa. Thank God I haven’t lost for Celtic yet this year.”
This his second trip home. A suspension left a vacancy in midfield for the quarter-final and manager, Brian Spillane got on the phone. “I came back the Thursday and the game was the Saturday. I left again the Tuesday.The game was a 7pm and I got up at 4.30pm. It wasn’t ideal preparation but I didn’t want to chance being wrecked. Personally, I thought I was poor technically but I was happy mentally that I kept at it and I’d be fit enough from my training all the years and have kept active in San Diego, so I was okay.”
The fitness was very much in evidence as he burst into the box in the dying embers of extra-time, dived into a tackle and diverted the ball to Stephen Hayes, who thumped a dramatic winner against the competition’s second favourites Janesboro in front of around 2,000 people in Killarney, sparking delirious celebrations. Hopefully, they will have something else to cheer this weekend.