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Wednesday 22 November 2017

Kevin's Championship debut

Villa appearance off bench followed by full 90 minutes

Alan Aherne

Kevin O’Connor is closed down by Robert Snodgrass (Aston Villa) on his Championship debut
Kevin O’Connor is closed down by Robert Snodgrass (Aston Villa) on his Championship debut
Kevin O’Connor battles in the air with Joe Garner of Ipswich Town in the Championship clash in Portman Road on Saturday
Kevin O’Connor and Seán Maguire (left) supporting their former club Cork City at the FAI Cup final in the Aviva Stadium on Sunday

A whirlwind five days for Kevin O'Connor saw the Screen star make his competitive Championship debut with Preston North End before returning home to support his former Cork City team-mates as they retained the Irish Daily Mail FAI Cup and completed a fantastic double in the process.

Wednesday, November 1, will always be remembered as the night when the talented left full-back took another giant leap in his career, coming on as a half-time substitute for Josh Earl in a 2-0 home defeat to Aston Villa.

A crowd of 14,212 watched the action at Deepdale, with O'Connor joined on the field by fellow Irishmen Seán Maguire, Andy Boyle, Daryl Horgan and Alan Browne.

Indeed, there was a major green theme to proceedings, as their opponents included Glenn Whelan, Conor Hourihane and Scott Hogan.

And while the result didn't go according to manager Alex Neil's plans, the former Curracloe United schoolboys star had clearly done enough to earn a second chance as he was given the full 90 minutes in Saturday's 3-0 defeat to Ipswich Town before a crowd of 14,390 in Portman Road.

This was Kevin's first start at this level as, prior to Wednesday, he had only featured as an unused substitute at home to Reading in August.

His debut for the club had come in a 3-2 Carabao Cup loss away to Accrington Stanley, but hopes are high that he will be retained now for the home league clash with Bolton Wanderers on November 17, after the conclusion of the international break.

O'Connor was joined in the defeat at Ipswich by Andy Boyle and Alan Browne, with one of the winners' goals coming from Republic of Ireland international David McGoldrick.

The two losses last week leave Preston with 21 points from 16 games, and in 14th position in the Championship table.

Kevin didn't have too long to dwell on Saturday's defeat as he flew home with team-mate Seán Maguire to watch their former club, Cork City, complete a league and cup double by beating arch-rivals Dundalk 5-3 on penalties in the Aviva Stadium on Sunday after a 1-1 draw.

The form of O'Connor and his Kilkenny colleague Maguire had been instrumental in driving the Leesiders to the top of the Premier Division before they departed for Lancashire in July, and of course the duo had captured FAI Cup medals last season when Dundalk were also defeated in the final.

And the outcome will leave them with the bragging rights on their return to Deepdale as their current team-mates Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan were Dundalk stalwarts before making the move across the Irish Sea.

Sunday's victory for Cork City wouldn't have been possible without the considerable influence exerted by two New Ross men who may well have been playing with the Turner's Cross outfit for the last time.

Ryan Delaney was a defensive rock all season after joining on a long-term loan from Burton Albion, with his efforts recognised when he was selected for the Under-21 international squad.

However, with his cross-channel club languishing fourth from the bottom of the Championship with just three wins and 13 points from 16 games, his services may well be required quickly, with a debut for the ex-Wexford Youths man at that level on the cards.

The experienced Bolger has enjoyed a glittering League of Ireland career since 2006, with the 29-year-old giving distinguished service to UCD, the now defunct Sporting Fingal, Dundalk and St. Patrick's Athletic before making the move to Cork at the behest of manager John Caulfield in November, 2015.

A league and cup winner during his time at Richmond Park, he has now done the same with John Caulfield's crew and was utilised as an extra-time substitute on Sunday as he collected his third cup medal in total.

The defensive midfielder has been linked to possible moves to Waterford United and, more recently, Shamrock Rovers, and he clearly still has a lot to offer and commands full respect as one of the most influential players in the league.

The successful Cork City team - bringing a first league and cup double to Leeside since Cork Athletic in 1951 - also featured Kilkenny man Jimmy Keohane who was a key figure with Wexford Youths as a teenager before moving to England where he spent time with Bristol City and Exeter City prior to a return originally to Sligo Rovers.

Wexford People

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