Danny O'Connor: 'Going back to the second tier and joining Drogheda - it was the best decision I ever made'Thu, Mar 16 2017
One of three brothers to have graced the League of Ireland, Dubliner Danny O’Connor has played the vast majority of his career outside the nation’s capital. Danny was kind enough to recap on his footballing days in a recent chat with ExtraTime.ie.
O’Connor’s introduction to League of Ireland football came in 1999 at Bray Wanderers, where he spent two seasons at the Carlisle Grounds.
“It was tough back then for a young player breaking through, to get an opportunity and then take it," O'Connor told Extratime.ie.
"I made my debut and a couple of substitute appearances for Bray, who were in the First Division then. When they got promoted, they signed some experienced players, so my progress took a step back. I wanted to play football, so I took the chance of going back to the second tier and joining Drogheda - it was the best decision I ever made.”
During Danny’s four years with the Drogs, he scored the winner V Galway United in 2002/03’s relegation play-off decider.
“While we had a good start to the season, we fell into the danger zone. We played poor in the first leg, in Galway, and were beaten 2-0. Then at home, we began well, got on top, then ended up winning 2-0 and bringing it into extra time, We were out on our feet, but a cross came in, Andy Myler headed it back across goal and I was there to finish it. An unbelievable feeling, which is still in the memory bank.”
O’Connor found himself signing for Longford Town ahead of the 2005 campaign, but looks back on his two seasons there as a missed opportunity for the midlands side not to have added to their silverware.
“When I joined, Longford were still investing in their squad and they’d won both of the cups the year before. It was the first season the Setanta Cup was being run and they qualified as cup winners and experienced European football. We should have done better with the squad of players we had. We were always upper mid-table, but we could have done more.”
After several years at the aforementioned Leinster clubs, the Dubliner finally turned out for a local team, newly-promoted Shamrock Rovers, in readiness for the 2007 Premier Division season. As someone who has scored in a 2-0 derby victory over arch-rivals Bohemians, Danny gives a player’s perspective on what it’s like be involved in this particular fixture.
“It is special, very intense. There’s always an atmosphere in training the week leading up to it and a buzz around the camp. As for playing in it, I suppose it’s an easy game to get carried away in and go over the top, with the passion that’s there. It’s a balance that comes with experience, to keep the head and try to win the game rather than get caught up with the fans.”
When the versatile player left the Hoops at the end of 2008, he took a break from football before his next challenge.
“I’d played a huge amount of games. The training with Rovers was Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, play Friday and warm down on Saturday. There’s loads of commitment with that. I was carrying a couple of injuries and very busy in work, as a bank manager. We were also having our second son, so I decided to take a period out of the game and catch up with my work and home life.”
Rejuvenated, Danny saw out the remainder of the 2009/10 season with IFA Premiership side Newry City.
“Johnny McDonnell rang me to come up, so I trained with them for a couple of weeks and signed. I played about a dozen games until the end of the season. I knew if the chance came at a certain stage in my career, I would like to sample the Premiership up the north. Knowing Johnny, as a manger over the years, I thought it was a good fit and something new.”
O’Connor came full circle in 2010, by ending his career back at Bray Wanderers, where he was appointed club captain and appreciated his final campaigns as a League of Ireland player.
“I loved my last four years of football there. While we didn’t win silverware, there were some unbelievable achievements, with the squad, the budget and some of the teams we were competing against. The first season was one of my highlights. We were bottom of the league, 12 or so points behind Drogheda. We went on an astonishing run until the end of the year and stayed up.”
Danny’s retirement in June 2014 came as a direct result of his body no longer able to cope with the demands of topflight football.
“I had tendonitis in both Achilles and it was progressively getting worse. At the time, I probably had a very tough 12-18 months with the injuries. It was getting to the point where I’d break down, go into rehab and then go back into a match situation. I was 33, struggling for top fitness and all the experience of getting into positions early wasn’t enough. It was chronic pain after games, where I’d struggle to walk properly the next day … The time was right to call it a day.”
When asked about spending the majority of his playing days away from his native city, O’Connor remains philosophical: “It’s just the way the career went. I had opportunities to join one or two other Dublin clubs, but it never worked out for whatever reason, so it took me to other parts of the country.”
In the last few years, Danny has, through football, found a way which brings him even closer to his family, instead of being constantly on the road.
“I have two boys, who are with Cabinteely. I’ve been managing their U-9 and U-10 teams. It’s enjoyable coaching the kids and now Pat Devlin has taken over as Director of Football. It’s a club on the up.”