Irish star Lee O’Connor opens up on why he decided to leave Celtic
While Celtic players are chasing a Scottish Premiership title and a return to the Champions League, Ireland international Lee O’Connor has no regrets over his decision to cut ties with the Bhoys and make a permanent move to England’s League Two.
The Waterford man, who still had a year and a half to go on his contract at Parkhead, insists it was the right move for his career, at club and international levels, to quit Glasgow and head south.
Capped once by Mick McCarthy in 2019, the versatile O’Connor is still biding his time with the U-21s and will win his 20th cap at that level in Tuesday’s European qualifier away to Sweden. Since he last played for the U-21s, in November’s win at home to the Swedes, O’Connor made his loan move from Celtic to Tranmere Rovers into a permanent one. That meant giving up on his Parkhead dream but he’s happy to have made that call.
“It was pretty straightforward for me. I think I needed to do it for the good of my career. That’s what it came down to, that’s the only thing I was thinking about. From when I was making my decision, it just had to be what’s going to be the best thing for my career,” says O’Connor, who signed for Celtic in 2019 but never made a first-team appearance.
“I could have maybe waited until the summer, made my decision, but I just wanted to play. I just needed to play games. I thought at the age I’m at now (21), the thing I needed the most was to play games. That’s what it come down to and that’s why I left. It was pretty much down to me. Once Tranmere said they wanted me and I decided that’s where I wanted to go, it was pretty straightforward and that was that. It’s a great club. It didn’t work out for me (at Celtic).”
He’s now a driving force in Tranmere side who are on course for promotion to League One, a level that would give him more chances to show he’s ready for senior international level. Stephen Kenny leaned on O’Connor a lot in his time as U-21 boss and while progress to the senior squad is clearly one of his goals, he’s determined to finish this U-21 qualifying campaign with a first-ever qualification.
“It’s my last chance obviously to do it. To be the first (Irish) team to do it, it’s what we all want to do. It would mean a hell of a lot,” he says.
O’Connor is wary of the threat posed by the Swedes but also buoyed by his own record against them: three games and three wins versus Sweden.
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