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Daire O’Connor: The Irishman hoping to dump St Mirren’s Irish stars out of the Scottish Cup

An exciting Scottish Cup tie for the Irish awaits on Saturday.

While there are several Irish names across the pond who are impressing on a weekly basis, there are few games that have a distinctly Irish feel about them. But this weekend in the Scottish Cup, there may be just that.

A St Mirren side, who are likely to have a certain Jamie McGrath in it; perhaps for the last time; alongside Conor McCarthy, Connor Ronan, Joe Shaughnessy, Charles Dunne and Alan Power – take on an Ayr United side who have former Ireland U21 forward Jonathan Afolabi, and ex-Cork City winger Daire O’Connor in their ranks.

While it is unlikely that all players will feature, O’Connor and his Ayr United teammates head into the game as rank underdogs, but with a home tie against their top-flight opponents, they still believe.

Daire O’Connor eyeing Scottish Cup glory.

“I think it is well accepted that we are going into the game as underdogs,” O’Connor explained to Pundit Arena this week.

“It’s a cup game, and I know it is a cliché, but anyone can beat anyone. We’re coming into the game off the back of a few decent results – bar last week. With the change of manager we’ll be going in confident.

“We’ve got nothing to lose, and it’s in front of our fans. Anything can happen.”

Daire O'Connor Ayr

O’Connor, now 24, is well used to turbulence as a footballer – especially within the League of Ireland – but it is unlikely he has experienced anything like this season in the Scottish Championship.

Currently, Ayr are languishing in the bottom-half of the Scottish second-tier, and they have already had four different managers steering the ship this term.

Saying that, it is not stopping the lively winger from eyeing an improved second-half of the season.

“Off the pitch it has been a bit turbulent in terms of all the changes. But these are things you can’t really control as players.

“It can be frustrating in terms of proving one thing to a manager and then he’s out the door.

“You’re just starting all over again, and I’ve been down that process a few times this season, so from that side of things it has been a bit turbulent.

“But I’m enjoying it here, it is a new environment. I was an unknown quantity coming into the league, so I put it upon myself to impress people around the place.

“I’m enjoying that aspect of it, and there’s half a season to go. Hopefully I can get back into the team and get a run of games heading into the summer.”

The third-level route.

Of the Irish contingent that may play on Saturday, three players, in O’Connor, McGrath and McCarthy have all come through the third-level football route.

While not tapped into previously, the success of UCD in recent times, along with the evident progression of Jamie McGrath and Liam Scales have shown that it is a tangible route to elite-level football. Sean McLoughlin at Hull City is testament to that pathway too.

And Saturday’s Scottish Cup clash is testament to that.

Daire O'Connor Ayr United

“I’ve been a big advocate of third-level football from day one,” O’Connor adds. “It shows that there is an avenue to go on and play top-level football.

“I think the four of us who are over here at the moment, me, Jamie [McGrath], Liam [Scales] and Conor [McCarthy] are a sign that it works.

“It shows that you don’t have to head off to England at 16 and come back at 20, disillusioned with football and have no education.

Jamie McGrath St Mirren

“There obviously will be players that will make it, but it is growing as an opportunity for players to use.

“Whether all of us are involved on Saturday remains to be seen, but I’ll be sure speak to the lads on Saturday before or after the game.”

The Irish Diaspora.

O’Connor’s time in Scotland, however, comes at a time in which Irish players are beginning to make more of an impact in Scotland – with League of Ireland talent being snapped up left, right and centre in the UK.

“I think the Scottish clubs are looking at how well the Irish lads have done,” O’Connor said.

“Equally, I think there are a lot more Irish players that are looking at Scotland as an alternative to slumming it out in League One and League Two in England.

“It’s a good stepping stone to progress and move to the next level. There’s not of a difference standard wise between Scotland and Ireland from what I’ve experienced so far.”

Of those players who have moved over to Scotland in recent times is Liam Scales, an Ireland international squad member, and also a very close friend of O’Connor – with both players mirroring their paths somewhat.

“At six or seven we were playing at Arklow Town together. We then went to St Joseph’s Boys then for a bit, and he went back to Arklow then after.

“We played with the same UCD Under-19’s team, same Universities team and lived in the same dorm while we were in UCD.

“Obviously, we both went our separate ways with him going to Rovers and me going to Cork. But here we are in Glasgow together…

“I joke with him saying that he’s following me around the place, but it’s great to see him doing so well.”

Daire O’Connor.

But for now, O’Connor heads into this weekend with hopes of not only dumping out Ireland’s St Mirren contingent from the Scottish Cup, but also with ambitions for him to kickstart Ayr’s survival hopes for the rest of the season.

“If you get three or four wins in a row you end up going right up the table, but you never know,” he adds.

“Who knows, we could end up sneaking a playoff spot, although that could be beyond us now.

“But the priority is to gravitate away from the bottom of the table as best we can.”

O’Connor’s game against St Mirren takes place on Saturday afternoon at 3pm, with the fourth round of the Scottish Cup set to take place in just over three weeks time.

And it may be then when O’Connor face off against one another – as unlikely as it seems right now.

Scottish Fourth Round Cup Draw.

Aberdeen v Edinburgh City; Alloa Athletic v Celtic; Arbroath v Darvel; Auchinleck Talbot v Heart of Midlothian; Ayr United v St Mirren; Banks O’Dee v Raith Rovers; Clydebank v Annan Athletic; Dumbarton v Dundee; Hibernian v Cove Rangers; Kelty Hearts v St Johnstone; Kilmarnock v Dundee United; Livingston v Ross County; Motherwell v Greenock Morton; Partick Thistle v Airdrieonians; Peterhead v East Kilbride; Rangers v Stirling Albion.

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