Celtic man Lee O’Connor earned his first cap for the Republic of Ireland on Thursday night – in a position that may have been surprising to many Celtic fans.
The 19-year-old had a debut to remember for his country as he notched an assist in a 3-1 win over New Zealand. O’Connor impressed generally on what would have been a daunting occasion for him – especially as he was picked to play at right-back.
“Of course there’s a big step-up, but I think I done well,” he said post-match, as reported by the Daily Record. “I’m happy with my performance. Hopefully it’s the first of many.
“The assist was a great moment for me. Robbie’s left footed. It kind of played into my hands, I could go around the outside. I thought we worked well together.
“That’s what I want to do now, push for the first team at Celtic. Hopefully I can.”
O’Connor is seen as a right-back by two Ireland bosses
His international cap is unlikely to do him any harm in his pursuit of a starting spot. But big questions must now be asked over what position the club see O’Connor excelling in. The former Manchester United man can play across the defence, and also in a holding midfielders role.
However, his usual international gaffer, under-21s boss Stephen Kenny, has no doubt over where he’s best suited.
“For his age, he has very good characteristics and an excellent attitude”, Kenny told the Irish Mirror in September.
“But I think he’s definitely a right back. He can play centre back but he’s a raider, a good defender who also raids.”
O’Connor dilemma is worth keeping an eye on
Kenny’s words, and Mick McCarthy’s team on Thursday, suggest that O’Connor may be another who can add to the Celtic right-back mix. We’re already really well covered in that area with Hatem Abd Elhamed, Moritz Bauer and the hugely talented Jeremie Frimpong.
To have O’Connor adding to that dilemma seems a bit daft. But if his position is going to be elsewhere then we’ve got to ponder whether we’re going to be playing him where he’s most comfortable.
If two international bosses like Kenny and McCarthy see him as a full-back, who are we to disagree?
It’s an area worth keeping your eye on over the next six months or so. Of course, none of this is O’Connor’s fault. He can only keep performing to the level that has earned him an international cap as a teenager. A Celtic appearance can’t be far away.