After waiting eight years for Ireland to reach the U19 Euros, captain Lee O’Connor wants a swift start today against Norway in Yerevan (3.45pm, RTÉ Two).
The Manchester United midfielder is glad to be in Armenia on international duty despite Ole Gunnar Solskjaer expressing a desire to bring him to Australia and the Far-East for the first team’s pre-season tour.
O’Connor is already a veteran of the international scene, his nascent talent ensuring he was fast-tracked through the ranks.
At 18, he’s been part of an Irish squad at every level, including the seniors last November, and will earn his 55th international cap this afternoon.
“This is a big tournament and I’m honoured to be here captaining my country.
“This is the proudest moment of my career. A lot of us players have grown up together with the Ireland teams and now we’re facing the best teams in Europe.
Norway are good on the ball and will carry a physical threat but I’m confident we can get off to a good start.
His last appearance at a major tournament doesn’t hold particularly fond memories.
O’Connor travelled to Croatia for the U17 finals two years ago in a protective boot nursing his ankle injury.
There are no such concerns this time, although a hectic season resulted in him having just a week off.
He was back in training at United on July 1, shortly after returning from Ireland’s progression to the Toulon Tournament semi-finals under Stephen Kenny.
“My legs feel fine. I’ve always played a lot of games growing up and I feel 100 per cent. Hopefully I can have a better tournament than the U17s a couple of years ago.
"I wasn’t fit enough to go but wanted to be there. By the end, I didn’t even play a full game.”
He’s hoping there’ll be plenty of action on the club front this season too.
O’Connor has done what’s been asked of him in his first two season at United, steadily climbing from the U18s to U23s and, sporadically, into the first-team set-up.
The return of former reserve team manager Solskjaer last Christmas has facilitated the ascent.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are in Ole’s eyes,” he said. “That Champions League last-16 tie against PSG last season was the most important game of the season.
“Yet, Ole put in two players from the U18s, including my teammate Tahit Chong.
“The PSG game showed myself and all the lads at the club that there is a pathway there.
“All of the players at the club were refreshed. I ended up going to Barcelona as part of the squad for the Champions League quarter-final.
“I wasn’t sure whether I’d be heading away with them on the pre-season tour.
“Tom (Mohan) wanted me to come with the Ireland squad and it went right up to the last minute before knowing what would happen.”