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O’Connor Eager To Build On First PRO12 Start

O’Connor Eager To Build On First PRO12 Start

With injuries to Dan Tuohy and Iain Henderson and with huge games against Glasgow Warriors, Leicester Tigers and Toulon coming up, the question as to who will partner Franco van der Merwe in the second row is probably the most pressing selection issue facing the Ulster coaches.

Neil McComb and Lewis Stevenson are contenders as is new signing Ronald Raaymakers, who joins up with the squad next week. However, last Friday night, a fourth contender made his case for selection.

Academy player Alan O’Connor, who turned 22 last month, started against Edinburgh and excelled in the 30-0 win at Kingspan Stadium.

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“It went well. I was delighted to get the full 80. Your aim is to get a start, then that’s a foot in the door,” said O’Connor, the former Ireland Under-20 international.

“If you do a job there then the aim becomes to try and work your way up. I’m always trying to impress the coaches, whether that’s in training or in a match.

“I would love to line up out against Glasgow (this week), that would be a dream. I just need to keep working hard and to try and impress.”

O’Connor made his Ulster debut against Leinster two seasons ago. Following that appearance, the 6ft 5in, 16st 11lb lock then came off the bench to face Munster a week later. However, due to injury, he had to wait almost another season-and-a-half to make his third appearance for Ulster. 

A product of the Leinster sub-Academy, a conversation with current Ulster forwards coach, Allen Clarke, led to his move north.

“Allen spoke to me after the Under-20 World Cup and offered me a chance at Ulster. He has been fantastic ever since and has helped my development massively as a player.

“He expects you to know your role and to know your details. He wants you to work hard and to respect everyone around you.”

So hard work is the message from the forwards coach. If O’Connor is to play a part against Glasgow, Leicester or Toulon, then it will be all worth it.