For 22, Michael O’Connor has experienced a lot in his young career.
In the first-team squad with Dundalk at 16, representing Ireland at youth level, then seeing a potential move to Burnley fall through due to a gambling addiction.
O’Connor is very philosophical about his journey that has taken him to Ross County, after he joined from Waterford last week. He believes his demons have been conquered after getting a grip on him during his spell at home-town club Dundalk.
“I returned to Waterford after leaving Dundalk,” said O’Connor. “In Dundalk it was too easy for me to do things and then I asked the manager if I could become captain, because then you’ve got responsibilities and you can’t be doing stuff off the pitch that’s going to affect the club and affect the team.
“I did that quite well, and as you can see it has paid off. Waterford now are about five games away from Europe, which is massive for the club. I wish I could be a part of it, but there are bigger things for me.
“That down-time you get as a footballer where you think about doing something, you have to try and turn it into something positive. I try to go to the gym, or go for a coffee, those are some of the things I do and it helps me a lot.”
O’Connor had the confidence to ask to be made captain of Waterford upon rejoining the club for a second loan spell in January. It was just the level of responsibility he needed.
“It was a massive responsibility and I took it with both hands. Waterford were doing quite well – there wasn’t any issues. It was great to have the responsibility.
“It’s taken me here, so I know what putting my head down does, and I’m going to take this opportunity with both hands.”
The 22-year-old frontman has leaned on the advice of former Staggies players Andy Boyle and Kurtis Byrne, for their advice on joining the Dingwall club.
O’Connor says he owes a debt of gratitude to his partner Aisling and his parents for their support.
He added: “At the minute she’s not here – she has a really good job back home. She’s a nurse and obviously, with Covid, it’s really difficult for her to get over and back. At the end of the day, she knows I’m here to play football. Football comes first and she comes second! She’ll get over it.
“She’s been massive. When you’re down and out and needed someone, I had her, I had my mam and dad. Luckily I still have them as some families could turn on them. They’ve always had belief in me that I could change. I’ve always been a nice kid, but it’s just that got a grip of me for a while. I’ve turned a corner and I’m looking forward to what’s ahead.
“It’s massive credit to my dad and my mam. I’m from Dundalk and I played for St Kevin’s (Boys Club). There were days when I wasn’t going to school and he was driving me up and down, when they were struggling for petrol money. It’s them that I want to do well for. This is why I took this opportunity; I want to keep going well and going to the next level.”
O’Connor was on the bench against Aberdeen last weekend after his international clearance came through and, if selected, he is ready to hit the ground running against Rangers on Sunday.
“In the past I’ve never had that luck, because off the field I was all over the place. I put my head down for a couple of months, and it has led me to a great opportunity here and now and I’m going to take it with both hands.”