When local lad and fan favourite Aaron O’Connor left Waterford United last month, many an eyebrow was raised. What were the suspicious circumstances? Was there a bust up with the manager? Was he just fed up with the state of the situation the club found themselves?
In his own words, the 19 year old and massive Waterford United fan was keen to give his side of the story and quite eloquently put it down to a chain reaction of events, explaining in detail his tough decision to part from a club which has deep roots throughout his family.
Local lad Aaron came from a United supporting family and has very fond memories of watching the Blues play at the Regional Sports Centre on Friday nights. It was the highlight of the week in the family when his father, Noel, younger brother Lee, who has recently sealed a summer move to Manchester United, and himself, would make the trip down the road to enjoy some quality time together. Aaron’s face lights up, beaming when discussing it.
“I always looked forward to the games on Friday, and the excitement of the build up all week,” he said.
The love affair had begun and while playing for local side Villa FC it wasn’t long before he was nabbed by the Blues’ under 19 side in the summer of 2014. Despite his relatively young age, Tommy Griffin saw something special and gave him his first team debut as a substitute in a 4-1 defeat to Wexford Youths. It was almost the realisation of a dream playing for a club you and your family support and watched regularly. The talented midfielder went on to make 16 appearances in the First Division, scoring twice and gaining quite a following.
Having made 14 appearances in this, the 2016 campaign, again scoring twice, the road started to become a little bumpy to say the least. Aaron surprisingly found himself in and out of the team. And while looking for an explanation as to why, he said: “I sent Roddy a text asking to talk about my position in his plans, and he replied with who’s this?”
A few days later though he did manage to get a face to face with Collins, adding: “He told me because of the position we were in in the league, he wanted a team of battlers and for me being a ball player I wouldn’t find myself on the pitch.”
And as to why, he feels this “not a battler” tag was unfairly labeled on him and the incident that was eventually the straw that broke the camel’s back, Aaron sets his mind back to an incident that happened away to Drogheda United.
”I think the problem stemmed from the game proceeding the last game I played, in which I scored and assisted in a 2-0 win away at Shelbourne. We were away to Drogheda and I was named to start despite telling the manager, Roddy Collins, I felt a strain from training the day before. We didn’t have a physio so I asked could I see the Drogheda physio who told me I had a slight tear.”
After speaking to his manager, Aaron went on to say, to his amazement: “I told Roddy, who then said the physio is only bullshitting and I was fine to play, even though I couldn’t run in the warm up”.
But despite this heartbreaking difference of opinion, which subsequently saw him depart his boyhood club, he showed tremendous maturity beyond his years, finishing with: “I want to thank Roddy for playing me and giving me my starting debut for the team I supported as a schoolboy growing up, but obviously football is a difference of opinion.”
Aaron went on to give a fascinating insight as to why the club, at least on the pitch, were struggling.
He said: “Sometimes there would be six first team players training and we would have to train with our under-17 squad. I can understand people coming from Dublin and elsewhere to play but I don’t see how we can win matches when there is no on-field chemistry and relationships which would be built during training.”
Note the use of the words “we can win matches.” Regardless of his situation, the club is still dear to his heart and there’s a sense of unfinished business that could see him return one day.
As for what’s next? The talented midfielder just wants to enjoy his football again with an eye on testing himself at the highest level, adding: “I just want to get back playing football against players who I can test myself against. Hopefully I can perform well enough to attract the interests of League of Ireland clubs as that is where I want to be.”
The Waterford native firmly believes he has what it takes to make it and with age, talent and ambition on his side, it’s surely a matter of time before his mix of determination and ability see him lighting up the SSE Airtricity League sooner rather than later.
Photo Credit: ‘Ian Clancy/Travels With The Blues’