Dundalk striker Ciaran O’Connor in action against Shelbourne in the EA Sports Cup last season. Picture: Ciaran Culligan

O’Connor ready to make an impact this season

After a couple of seasons hovering around the fringes, Ciaran O’Connor is determined to make a real impact at Oriel Park in 2016.

This is the third year that the teenager has featured in pre-season training with Stephen Kenny’s first-team squad. Previously, the 19-year-old was happy just to be involved but after a successful loan spell at Derry City last year, the striker feels he has what it takes to become a regular with his hometown club.

“I feel that the move to Derry worked out really well for me,” he told The Dundalk Democrat.

“I think I set standards for myself and I was happy with how it went. Off the field, I was living away from home for the first time without my family so that was a good experience for me.

“I just wanted to work hard and get the job done up there and I think it went well. I played regularly and scored a few goals so hopefully Stephen is not fazed at putting me in.

“There’s three of us — myself, David McMillan and Ciaran Kilduff — fighting for a place up front. I’ll battle it out with the two lads and we’ll see how it goes but I’m ready for it.”

After seeing his game time with Dundalk restricted to Leinster Senior Cup and EA Sports Cup matches, O’Connor went on loan to Derry City in July 2015.

He started eight games for the Candystripes, scoring goals in victories against Galway United, St Patrick’s Athletic and Bohemians that ultimately helped secure their Premier Division status.

“Derry’s last couple of games were against big clubs where they needed the three points. We played Pat’s where we won 1–0 and I got the goal and then there was the game against Cork City at Turner’s Cross that was live on TV,” he said.

The Candystripes held the Leesiders scoreless in front of the RTE cameras with O’Connor’s performance earning him the man of the match award.

“I think in that game you could see the difference in the training we do with Graham Byrne at Dundalk,” he remarked.

“Everybody else was getting tired towards the end but I felt good and I really feel that my performances in Derry benefitted from the work I did here before that.”

O’Connor’s spell at the Brandywell means he has first hand experience of working with one of Stephen Kenny’s new signings, Patrick McEleney and he believes Dundalk fans are in for a treat.

“Patrick’s an excellent player. He plays with both feet and I think he’ll excite everybody. He’s also working with Graham and he’ll be the fittest he has ever been.

“I’m excited myself to see how good he will be when he’s at peak fitness. There’s no doubt he will be a fantastic signing for this club.”

The pre-season games kick-off on Tuesday when Irish League side Cliftonville pay a visit to Oriel Park. O’Connor will have to sit that game out with a sprained ankle picked up after an innocuous collision with Gabriel Sava in training.

Speaking about the injury, Kenny said there were genuine fears that it could have been a lot worse.

“Ciaran got a real fright as he was convinced he had heard a crack. He thought he broke his ankle and we had to carry him off the pitch. He couldn’t walk so we feared the worst in that regard.

“Thankfully the x-ray the following morning showed that he is okay. It’s not broken but he has sprained it and has damaged tendons in his foot so he will be out for three weeks.”

No player likes missing games but O’Connor was upbeat despite the setback.

“I’ll be fine and the knock won’t affect my fitness. I’ll miss the Cliftonville and Shelbourne games but I’m hoping to be back for the Waterford match on Tuesday week,” he said.