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Former Staggies forward Byrne backs O’Connor to handle step up to Dingwall

Former Ross County forward Kurtis Byrne.
Former Ross County forward Kurtis Byrne.

Kurtis Byrne has backed his Waterford United team-mate Michael O’Connor to make the next step in his career with Ross County.

Striker O’Connor is close to joining County after Waterford confirmed he is on his way to the Dingwall club, although the Staggies insist the deal is not yet over the line.

The 22-year-old has emerged as a hot prospect in Irish football, and was in his second spell with Waterford following previous stints with Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers and Northern Irish side Linfield.

Former Staggies forward Byrne, who plays alongside O’Connor with the Blues, is not surprised the former Republic of Ireland under-19 international has earned the move to Scotland.

Byrne said: “He was starting to do well and that’s why he was probably noticed.

“He’s a big strong target man and he’s still young, people forget he’s only 22 so he will get stronger.

“I told him that he just needs to go over there and work hard, and take his chance when it comes. Nothing ever comes handed to you.

“He has been at a few big clubs already in Ireland. He definitely has something.

“I really hope it works out. He will be a big miss to Waterford but I’m delighted for him. When a Scottish Premiership club comes knocking it’s a big opportunity for him and you can’t stand in his way.”

Byrne, who also played for Hibernian, says O’Connor will need time to adapt to facing a higher standard of opposition.

He added: “He will be coming up against a lot of physical, experienced players who are internationals.

“It’s a totally different league to him, he will be going down to play Celtic and Rangers, and other big clubs like Hibernian and Aberdeen.

“It will take him a little bit of time to settle, but once he does hopefully he can score some goals and adapt his game to playing over there.

“You never know, it could be a great stepping stone for him. I used to play with Darryl Horgan who was at Hibs and has now gone to Wycombe, while Andy Boyle went from Dundalk to Preston.

“He has to go over there with the mentality of working hard, adapting and getting to know his team mates.

“Sometimes it’s not easy to settle in, but he has the future ahead of him at 22, so it’s a good opportunity for both parties.”

Byrne was part of Derek Adams’ County side which won the First Division title in 2012, with a number of his former Staggies team-mates – including manager Stuart Kettlewell – still at the club.

Byrne feels the Staggies will give O’Connor a strong platform to develop, with the 30-year-old adding: “I had a couple of good years there. Winning the First Division was not easy but we had a great squad with a real togetherness.

“I played with Stuart Kettlewell who was playing in centre midfield, and is now manager. I used to live across from him and he has done really well there.

“They still have players there like Michael Gardyne and Iain Vigurs who I still text. They will look after him.

“It’s a great club – I’ve got nothing but praise for them.”

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