O'Connor's debut with Preston a sign of super progress

On the Line with Alan Aherne

Alan Aherne
Alan Aherne

Readers of a certain vintage will readily recall the television advert from the 1980s by the Milk Marketing Board in the U.K. with that memorable catchphrase uttered by a budding young Scouse footballer: 'Accrington Stanley, who are they?'

They had dropped out of the main league structures at the time and were surviving on past glories, but their fortunes have improved considerably since then and they are a League Two outfit at the present moment in time.

What is their relevance to Wexford you are no doubt wondering? Well, last Tuesday night they provided the opposition as Screen soccer sensation Kevin O'Connor made his full competitive debut for his new club, Preston North End, after his recent move from League of Ireland Premier Division champions in waiting, Cork City.

Unfortunately for the Deepdale crew, Accrington spoiled the party somewhat with an injury time goal to seal a 3-2 home success in this Carabao Cup first round encounter.

Nonetheless, it was still a major milestone in O'Connor's blossoming career as he follows in the footsteps of another versatile and talented Wexford sportsman, Ciarán Lyng, who spent some time with Preston before later returning home to pursue his inter-county football career after making some first team appearances with Shrewsbury Town.

I'm not sure Wexford people fully realise the magnitude of Kevin's achievement in being snapped up by a club operating at the level directly below the Premier League.

With so much money in football right now given the lucrative nature of television deals and the presence of several foreign owners and investors, it has never been easier for clubs in the Championship to look to mainland Europe to strengthen their squads.

Therefore, for a 22-year-old to be snapped up from a League of Ireland club on a three-year contract says a great deal about O'Connor's wonderful ability.

In fairness, anyone who has seen the left-back in action, either with Waterford United or Cork City, will testify that he has what it takes to make a lasting impact cross-channel.

However, he will have to be patient, and it's no surprise that he hasn't featured in Preston's first two Championship clashes that yielded an encouraging four points from a possible six.

I'm an avid programme collector with a subscription to the Spurs home issues, the club I have supported since I was mesmerised as an eight-year-old by Ricky Villa's stunning individual goal in the FA Cup final of 1981 against Manchester City.

And now I've forked out for the Preston North End equivalent too as I figured it was the best way to keep tabs on Kevin's progress.

Lo and behold, when the first batch of three programmes arrived last week, it included one for the pre-season friendly against Burnley featuring a front page photograph of Kevin and his Cork City side-kick and fellow new recruit, Seáni Maguire.

O'Connor first appeared with his new club for the full second-half in that game on July 25, and the opposition included Ireland internationals Stephen Ward, Robbie Brady, Jon Walters and Kevin Long.

Maguire endeared himself immediately to Preston fans with the goal in a 2-1 loss, while ex-Dundalk duo Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan plus another player from this side of the pond, Eoin Doyle, also lined out for the Lancashire club.

O'Connor's jersey number is 25 in a 31-man squad, and he is one of four players vying for the left-back position along with Greg Cunningham, Tommy Spurr and Josh Earl.

Galwegian Cunningham is normally the man in possession and is highly thought of at the club, having taken over the captaincy in the long-term absence through injury of Tom Clarke.

Best wishes to Kevin for the rest of the season, because progress to this exalted level in the professional game is no more than he deserves.

His departure leaves four Wexford men still lining out regularly in the League of Ireland Premier Division: New Ross duo Ryan Delaney and Greg Bolger with Cork City, Chris 'Hopper' Kenny from Enniscorthy with Sligo Rovers, and Wexford town's Ethan Boyle with Finn Harps in the Donegal outpost of Ballybofey.

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