Former Imps midfielder Michael O’Connor has been named as assistant manager at Newry City, following the conclusion of his playing contract with Glenavon.
O’Connor, a hugely respected figure at Sincil Bank, has been completing his UEFA ‘A’ Licence alongside Newry’s new boss, Gary Boyle, over the past couple of years. He left City in January 2020, joining Salford City for a few matches. The season ended early as a result of Covid, and that prompted him to return to Ireland. He spent three seasons with Glenavon, appearing 75 times, before leaving the club this summer.
“I am really looking forward to working with Gary, the existing coaches, and the team,” said the 35-year-old. “This will be my first year involved in the coaching side but it’s something that I have been looking to do for last year or two.
“It will be a big challenge for myself and Gary to replicate the job Darren has done for last 10 years but it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to. I would like to thank Gary as well for giving me this opportunity to work with him at a great club.”
Newry play in the NIFL Premiership, the same division that, up until recently, Dylan Duffy was playing in. They finished tenth last season, narrowly avoiding the drop, although they were one of only three clubs to finish in a ‘dead’ position. Of the 12 teams in the division, he bottom team are relegated, the team in 11th enter a play-off and this season, due to a top six team winning the Irish Cup, teams from 2nd to 7th entered a play-off for the Europa Conference. Never a dull moment!
O’Connor first joined the Imps in 2009, coming in on loan from Crewe as a short-term replacement for Lee Frecklington. He had scored against Liverpool at Anfield earlier in the year, in the Carling Cup, but his Imps debut was a little less glamorous, as we were thrashed 5-1 at Grimsby. Fans hoped he might sign for the Imps permanently, but instead Scunthorpe secured his signature for £250,000.
His career took him to Rotherham, Port Vale and Notts County, experiencing back-to-back promotions with the Millers in the same team as Lee Frecklington, then getting Player of the Season for the Valiants. He returned to the Imps on the back of an injury-hit spell with Notts County but turned in 39 appearances in the league as we won League Two. The following season he fell out of favour with Michael Appleton, as did many. In total, he made 77 appearances for the Imps, scoring five times, including one on the opening day of the 2019/20 season, our first goal in the third tier since May 1986.
On a personal note, I’m delighted for Michael. He was always committed and a great servant to the club, but off the field, he was a lovely bloke as well. I interviewed him a couple of times, and he was one that always gave great answers. I did offend him once, a couple of weeks before the presentation evening in 2019, but we had a good laugh about it afterward. Luckily. He came to our 3-2 win against Burton in 2020, just before Covid, and always had five minutes for a chat. I hope he smashes it at Newry.