The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: - By Ben Baker

FOOT­BALLERS rarely get com­pared to rugby greats, so when Wal­sall boss Jon Whit­ney likened one of his de­fend­ers to for­mer Ire­land and Bri­tish Lions cap­tain Paul O’Con­nell it may have raised a few eye­brows.

But not if that de­fender is Eoghan O’Con­nell, Paul’s cousin. The com­par­i­son starts to make more sense.

It was the foot­balling O’Con­nell’s bril­liant dis­play in a 3-1 vic­tory over Bris­tol Rovers last week­end that sparked Whit­ney’s com­ments. The 21-year-old loa­nee from Celtic was not only a rock at the back but also bagged his first pro­fes­sional goal with a crisp vol­ley on the stroke of half-time.

“He brings a pres­ence and he’s a win­ner,” en­thused Whit­ney. “He’s got a good sport­ing tra­di­tion in his fam­ily. His cousin was the Lions rugby cap­tain and he has a win­ning men­tal­ity.”

The man him­self may be too mod­est to revel in such com­par­isons. but he ad­mits that tak­ing a leaf out of his cousin’s book would not be a bad thing.


“Paul is ob­vi­ously a very big fig­ure in rugby, so to be com­pared to him is a big hon­our,” said O’Con­nell.

“He was cap­tain of Ire­land and the Lions and had a great ca­reer.

“If I can do half of what he did, then I will have done well.

“I have just fin­ished read­ing his book, ac­tu­ally, and he seems to be cop­ing with re­tire­ment pretty well, to be fair to him.

“I wouldn’t know what he is like watch­ing rugby, rather than play­ing it, to be hon­est. But I think he would be all right with it.”

With his 2016 end­ing in a 7-0 hu­mil­i­a­tion at the hands of Barcelona, it is fair to say that this year has al­ready been much kin­der to O’Con­nell.

The cen­tre-back started last year on loan at home town side Cork City, be­fore re­turn­ing to par­ent club Celtic and fea­tur­ing in both the Scot­tish Premier­ship and the Cham­pi­ons League.

But, af­ter com­ing off the bench for the fi­nal 20 min­utes as Lionel Messi, Ney­mar, Luis Suarez and Co helped Barca thump the Bhoys by seven goals in Septem­ber, O’Con­nell failed to kick an­other ball in anger last year.

That all ended on Jan­uary 14 when the Repub­lic of Ire­land Un­der-21 in­ter­na­tional, who had joined Wal­sall on loan two days prior, started as they beat Sh­effield United 4-1, be­fore help­ing de­feat Bris­tol Rovers a week later.

So, two games and two wins, not to men­tion a goal, means things are look­ing up for O’Con­nell. Yet, he is sim­ply happy liv­ing in the mo­ment.

“I have re­ally en­joyed my time at Wal­sall so far,” said O’Con­nell. “I ar­rived only a cou­ple of days be­fore my first game, but the lads have all been re­ally wel­com­ing and I have set­for tled in re­ally quickly. Ob­vi­ously I have had a great start, too, with two wins in my first two games and the goal as well, which was great.

“It was a nice mo­ment to score and it was a nice lit­tle fin­ish, too. I haven’t re­ally scored that many, even in youth teams for Celtic, so it is some­thing I want to crack on with.

“But, while it has been a good start at Wal­sall, that is all it is. There is no point play­ing well


O’Con­nell’s de­sire not to look too far ahead could be down to the fact that his con­tract with Celtic ex­pires at the end of the sea­son, but he is adamant noth­ing will dis­tract him from try­ing to pro­pel Wal­sall into the League One play-offs. “I am not re­ally both­ered about my con­tract sit­u­a­tion with Celtic,” added O’Con­nell. “There is noth­ing I can re­ally do about it. All I can do is keep­ing work­ing hard for Wal­sall. “We are on a good run and we know any­thing can hap­pen in this league, so that is my main fo­cus right now, do­ing well for Wal­sall.” just two games. You need to be con­sis­tent.

“I know from ex­pe­ri­ence how quickly things can change af­ter hav­ing good starts on loan and then see­ing them end be­cause of in­jury.

“Hope­fully, this time I can build on it.”

PIC­TURE: Sport Im­age

DRIVEN: Wal­sall’s Eoghan O’Con­nell, left, in ac­tion against Sh­effield United’s Kieron Free­man. Insets: Cousin Paul with the Lions and, bot­tom, Wal­sall boss Jon Whit­ney

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