Official confirmation that Kevin O’Connor has become Simon Grayson’s last signing as Preston North End manager now gives way to speculation about who the Cork City player – as well as his teammate Sean Maguire and fellow League of Ireland exports Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle – will be playing under at Deepdale next season.
Grayson’s departure for Sunderland has prompted speculation that former Black Cats boss Paolo di Canio could take over at Preston. David Moyes, who began his senior management career at Preston, has also been tipped to make the reverse journey from Wearside, while Liverpool and England legend Steven Gerrard and current Scunthorpe boss Graham Alexander are also featuring prominently with the bookies.
Whatever concerns he might privately have about the implications of the change at the top for his career at Deepdale, O’Connor was yesterday expressing nothing but delight at his imminent arrival in the Championship.
“It’s a massive opportunity,” said the 22-year-old full-back and set-piece specialist.
“I’m just looking forward to getting started now and I couldn’t be happier to sign. From the first minute the club showed an interest in me they were keen to sign me and they were the ones who pursued it. It’s a great club, a big club and there’s a big fan base so I’m just excited to get started.
“I know a few of the boys already obviously with Sean [Maguire] moving over and Alan [Browne] there, and that will help me settle in quicker. I also played against a couple of the boys last year - Boyle and Horgan - so I’m just looking forward to seeing all the lads now and getting started.”
Commenting on the loss of the player, City manager John Caulfield said: “While we never want a player to move on during the season, it shows how far the club has come and it is a fantastic deal for Kevin which puts him at a higher level. With Kevin going, it now opens the opportunity for other players in the squad to stake a claim and that is great in a competitive squad like ours.”
Like Maguire, O’Connor will continue to play for Cork until July 24 meaning both will be available for the second qualifying round games of the Europa League should City complete the job of eliminating Levadia Tallinn at Turner’s Cross next Thursday night.
Their first goalscorer Garry Buckley is convinced that the Estonians are in for another defeat in the return leg.
“We have a two-goal cushion going into the return leg and a great opportunity to make progress in the competition. I suppose we all want to do as well as last year in the Europa League when we made it to third qualifying round against Genk,” said Buckley before the squad’s departure from Tallinn.
“I just can’t see Levadia Tallinn scoring three goals at Turner’s Cross given our excellent defensive record at home where we have only conceded ten goals all year.
“I think there’s a far better chance of us getting another goal or two to do the double over them. The lads were saying that the only team we have managed to do that on in the past was Sweden’s FC Malmo when our head coach Liam Kearney and former captain Dan Murray got the goals.”
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