Thomas O’Connor enjoys theatre of dreams goal

A senior Ireland international has yet to hit the net at Old Trafford this season, but 17-year-old Thomas O’Connor managed it as Southampton caused an FA Youth Cup shock.

The equaliser from the Wexford native on Tuesday cancelled out Manchester United’s lead eight minutes from the end before the Saints plundered a late winner.

Describing the experience as the best game he’d ever played in, O’Connor’s contribution is the latest evidence of the talent he possesses and the esteem he’s held in at the famed Saints academy.

“I found myself down the left channel – normally I don’t even go down the channel but I just found myself in space there,” O’Connor said.

“I cut in and it was just instinct to hit it with my right, but luckily it went in.

“It was an unreal performance from the boys. Even when we went 1-0 down we still felt like there was something in it for us.” Southampton were well aware when recruiting the midfielder that they were brushing off competition not just from football clubs but other sports.

Although his performances in the Kennedy Cup for Wexford and club New Ross Celtic had brought him to the notice of UK-based scouts, he was blazing a trail too on the hurling fields.

All-Ireland Schools’ football finals were his stage to shine, firstly in 2014 by striking 0-8 as his club Good Counsel New Ross lifted the Junior title.

The following year he was again to the fore, on this occasion in the Colleges junior final against a St Brendan’s Killarney packed with key members of Kerry’s minor side. A return of 2-6 highlighted O’Connor’s influence on the victory.

Hurling also had the benefit of his presence, both for club Tullogher-Rosbercon and the Kilkenny minors team he represented.

Meanwhile, the Ireland U19 team O’Connor is likely to be part of in the new year have been handed a tough task in the Uefa elite qualifying stage in March.

Standing in the way of Ireland to reach the Georgia-hosted finals in the four-team group are Italy, Sweden and Belgium, who will host the round-robin series.

Much more manageable is the task given to the U17s, who were grouped alongside group hosts Cyprus, Slovakia and Faroe Islands.

Unlike the U19s, finishing second in the U17 elite groups is likely to secure a place in the finals, which Ireland last reached in 2015.


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