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After Initial Homesickness, Waterford's Lee O'Connor Has Turned Heads At Man Utd

After Initial Homesickness, Waterford's Lee O'Connor Has Turned Heads At Man Utd
By Mikey Traynor

One of the great concerns for Irish football fans at this moment in time is the lack of players from this island breaking through at Premier League clubs.

Over the past few decades, top sides like Manchester United and Liverpool have always had an Irish influence either through signings or academy graduates, and yet it's difficult to think of the last time either club fielded an Republic of Ireland international (Darron Gibson for Man Utd, Robbie Keane for Liverpool).

We're hoping that we can soon see a young player end that drought, and while Liverpool have a number of promising young Irish players on the books, we have been highly encouraged by the progress of Waterford's Lee O'Connor since joining Manchester United last year.

Homesickness is nearly always going to be an issue for a young lad leaving Ireland for the first time, but thanks to the help of U18s coach Kieran McKenna, he overcame his troubles and enjoyed a fantastic season, where he was named alongside Angel Gomes as a nominee for the club's 'Youth Team Player of the Year' award.

Speaking to ManUtd.com, McKenna admitted that he was impressed by O'Connor's progress.

Lee O’Connor said in his interview you helped him overcome homesickness – does it help being able to relate to players in that way?

Yes, that’s the benefit of having been there yourself, in terms of coming to a big Academy and moving over from Ireland. It’s only natural at some stage he would feel a little bit homesick and would go through that process but he had a terrific season and made a really good impact.

The big challenge for him, the other two players I nominated for the award [Angel Gomes and Callum Whelan] and the rest of the squad, is what they do next and what level they can go to next season after being a very dominant player last season.

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I think he has done fantastic and been a real bonus. You never know how a lad is going to settle in after coming from Ireland and it's a huge step up from the level he was playing at. He has been a really important part of the team at centre-half and in both full-back positions.

I think he's a really talented boy but also a very solid and dependable character, which is an important quality to have in a defender.

Although Angel Gomes deservedly scooped the award for a standout season where he even made his debut for the first team, it is very encouraging to hear the coaching staff talk about O'Connor in a similar fashion, despite them being the polar opposite of each other in terms of playing style.

After arriving as an Ireland U15 and U17 international, O'Connor was placed in the U18 squad but finished the season in the U23s, one step away from the first team. We're not getting carried away by any means, but to see the strides he took in his first year after leaving Ireland, at such a big club, is really promising.

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Fingers crossed Jose Mourinho takes note, and we see him involved in the first team soon, but the good thing it, as he only turns 17 later this month, he's got time on his side.

A verstaile defender from Waterford impressing at Manchester United? We got good value the last time that occurred.

[via ManUtd.com]

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