Former Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers striker Michael O'Connor declares for Northern Ireland

Sun, Dec 09 2018

O'Connor scored his only Ireland under-19 goal in a 1-0 win over Austria in 2016. Credit: Peter Fitzpatrick (ETPhotos)

Former Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers striker Michael O’Connor has announced his intention to switch allegiance from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland.

The Louthman, who now plays in Belfast for Linfield, represented the Republic of Ireland up to under-19 level, scoring once in a 2016 victory over Austria.

20-year-old O’Connor was born in Dundalk but qualifies for the north, like his brother Ciaran, who plays for Warrenpoint Town, through his Belfast-born grandmother.

The move comes, ironically, days after Stephen Kenny, who gave him his senior debut at Dundalk, has been promoted to Ireland under-21 manager.

He’s one of a small number of Republic-born players to ply their trade with Northern Ireland in recent years alongside his ex-Dundalk teammate Darren Meenan and Leyton Orient’s Dale Gorman.

A more common pattern has seen Northern Ireland-born players choose to represent the Republic, with Shane Duffy, James McClean and Darron Gibson prominent recent examples.

"It is true that I've declared for Northern Ireland," O’Connor told the Belfast Telegraph.

"My nanny Patricia is from Dundalk like me but she was born in Belfast, and I think it is the right decision for me, so going forward hopefully I will be playing

"I just turned 20 in July so I can play in the next campaign for the under-21s, and hopefully if I'm doing things right and scoring goals for Linfield I'll get the nod."

O’Connor played schoolboy football with St Kevin’s Boys in Dublin before moving to Bristol City as a teenager.

He returned to sign for his hometown club in 2015 and made swift strides, debuting in the Champions League qualifying campaign as Dundalk were eliminated by Legia Warsaw.

After being limited to three appearances for the Lilywhites in 2016, scoring once in a 5-2 defeat to St Patrick’s Athletic, he made the move to Shamrock Rovers.

O’Connor scored twice in 24 league appearances for the Hoops before joining Finn Harps on loan at the beginning of the 2018 season.

After six months with Harps, O’Connor was allowed to leave Shamrock Rovers and joined Linfield, where he impressed enough to sign a one-year extension in October.