Lee O'Connor: 'I've accumulated a lot of caps, a lot of experience at underage level, so it is up to me to help the young lads through at times when things get tough'

Wed, Nov 17 2021
Lee O'Connor shields the ball from Sweden's Amin Sarr during Ireland's 1-0 win at Tallaght Stadium on Tuesday, 16 November 2021.

Lee O'Connor shields the ball from Sweden's Amin Sarr during Ireland's 1-0 win at Tallaght Stadium on Tuesday, 16 November 2021. Credit: Eddie Lennon (ETPhotos)

On Wednesday afternoon, the FAI released a short statistical break down on Lee O’Connor’s exemplary performance against Sweden.

The Waterford born full-back covered 10.6km with 2.12km clocked at high intensity. There were 82 calculated accelerations, something which his direct opponent Anthony Elanga knew all about.

“Anthony's a good player. I know Anthony from my time at Man United. He's a great player. He gave me problems at times. I gave him problems at times. I thought it was a good battle throughout the game,” said O’Connor.

It was clear that the Irish backroom staff did their homework in this area trying to negate Elanga’s attacking prowess by forcing the winger to track O’Connor’s incessant running.

“No matter who you come up against, you have to make them work the other way as much as he's going to run at me, I'm going to run you the other way. And if you don't come with me, I'm going to make you pay for it. I thought we exploited that quite well.”

O’Connor has become one of the most capped Irish underage players of all time, amassing well over 50 caps from under-15 level right up to under-21. His wealth of experience has been key.

“It's quite a young team. There's a lot of new faces, young lads, so it does fall on a lot of us. Me especially, I've accumulated a lot of caps, a lot of experience at underage level, so it is up to me to help the young lads through at times when things get tough.”

“Bar the blip in Montenegro, I think we've got better as each game has come. I know we were disappointed the other night against Italy, but we weren't maybe as great on the ball, though the defending was okay at times. I think we put it all together today, I think we defended excellently for 90 minutes, and we played good football as well,” said O’Connor.

The Irish under-21 team have never qualified for a European Championships, something O’Connor wishes to rectify.

“This is my last campaign with the underage setup, (qualifying) is something I want to do. We all said that we want to be the first 21s to get there and that's put us in with a good shout come March.”

Ireland have now defeated Sweden three times in a row at this level. A 3-1 win away from home, followed by a 4-1 home win and now a 1-0 victory, O’Connor has featured in all of those games.

A win against the same opposition in the next international window will be paramount.

“We've shown tonight we're definitely a match for them, so we'll go high on confidence after that. Again, it'll be a tough game, Sweden away is always a tough game, but we'll be up for it.”

Another man of the match performance from O’Connor will certainly aid Ireland’s hopes of finishing in the top two of the group.

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