Irish goalkeeper Conor O’Malley has found quite a unique balance in life.
On one hand, he is a professional footballer with Peterborough in League One while being on the fringes of the Irish international setup.
On the other hand, he is a maths graduate, studying to becoming a financial analyst.
He also once had a glittering career with the Mayo GAA minor setup.
It’s been quite the journey so far for the 24-year old.
Conor O’Malley has been with Peterborough since August 2017, when he joined from Airtricity League side St Patrick’s Athletic.
At the start of this season, his second full campaign in English football, O’Malley found himself struggling to even make the Peterborough bench before he worked his way into the team once again in January starting ten games in a row before being rewarded with a one-year contract extension at the end of the campaign.
After two seasons at London Road, O’Malley is now well used to life in English football, but when he first arrived, the Irish keeper admitted that the intensity and style of play was a lot different to what he had been used to.
“The main thing was just the amount of games,” O’Malley told Pundit Arena.
“The recovery period between games is so little. Like from October, November, December, January you have two games nearly every single week. It’s just nonstop.
“There’s also the intensity in training, that was probably the biggest step up, I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s just that League One is very intense in the way it’s played it’s very tough to play football in this division.
“In the League of Ireland, most teams will try to play but in League One they don’t. Maybe it was a bit of a culture shock for me especially coming from St Pats where we like to play. In fairness to ourselves here at Peterborough, we play as well but it’s very hard over here.”
O’Malley has spent the same amount of time with Peterborough as he did with Pats, a spell that was highly successful despite breaking into the first team at a very young age.
The 24-year old won back-to-back EA Sports Cup titles with the Dublin club in 2015 and 2016, while also receiving a Player of the Month nomination following his standout displays between the Richmond sticks.
“I loved playing in the League of Ireland,”said O’Malley.
“As a young keeper, it’s very hard to get and chance but Liam Buckley obviously placed a lot of trust in young players and he put me in whenever he could.
“It was a great experience and I loved playing League of Ireland, the atmosphere at games even with the smaller crowds is just as good as over here and I definitely miss playing it.”
His focus now is, of course, on Peterborough, but does O’Malley still keep an eye out for his old club?
“Yeah, I’ve been trying to stream some of their games but it’s very hard to find streams at the minute, but when they’re on RTE2 or Eirsport I try to watch them, hopefully, there’ll be a few more games on TV coming up soon.”
O’Malley’s career in football has so been excellent, but the 24-year old is focused on more than just the beautiful game.
He is currently studying to be a financial analyst having previously gotten a degree in Maths from NUI Maynooth. The 24-year old was actually supposed to sit his CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) exams last June, but he had the small matter of his first call-up to the Irish senior set-up to contend with instead.
The Mayo native explained that despite having to put them off in the most unusual of circumstances last year, he still has his sights set on completing the exams, with this June a possibility.
“The exam was last June and when I was with the Irish squad I decided I wanted two weeks off for the summer I didn’t want to spend the two weeks studying for an exam on my only two weeks off so I just put it off, hopefully, I’ll do them soon.
“I’m still studying for them I just haven’t set the exam so whenever I get the time to do the exam. They’re only in June and September and generally September is a bit too busy with football so maybe this June, we’ll see.”
O’Malley’s degree in Maynooth allowed for him to also focus on football and he was able to complete it while playing with Pats, a link that he feels is hugely beneficial to players plying their trade in the League of Ireland.
“To be fair in Ireland most clubs are trying to bring in links with colleges and with universities that enables young players to do both. League of Ireland isn’t like a viable full-length career for a lot of people so you need to have something with you.
“There are only three or four clubs that you can really be full time with over the age of 25 so you need to have something on the side that you can fall back on.”
Speaking to O’Malley, it’s clear that having the safety net of education to fall back on outside of the game is something that he is passionate about.
He explained that, although he was always hopeful of his footballing career coming to fruition, he knew the importance of a degree both as a back-up plan, and something to turn to when he hangs up the gloves in the distant future.
“It’s very important. Maybe it’s just the way I was brought up but education was always first.
“If I did well at football I was always hopeful but education was massive for me and it’s so nice to know that if it doesn’t go well over here if you get a bad injury or something you can always go home and, hopefully, fingers crossed, walk into a job.
“You’ve got the football side of it which is good on the CV as well as the good degree so it’s very comforting.”
As important as education is to O’Malley, he knows he made the correct decision in joining up with the Irish squad last summer, as he appeared in a testimonial match between Celtic and Ireland.
O’Malley explained that training with the senior setup and being involved in the Irish squad was a fantastic yet unexpected experience.
“It’s probably the highlight of any young Irish players career getting into the Irish squad. It was a great experience. Players that I had been looking at in the Euros in 2012 and 2016, I’m now out on the training pitch with but it was a great experience.
“I wasn’t really expecting it I was probably a bit lucky with injuries, I was playing at the end of the season and a couple of the Irish keepers got injured so it was very nice to be in there and in and around the squad.”
After having his contract extended for another year, O’Malley will once again find himself fighting for promotion from League One with Peterborough next year, with the season starting around the beginning of August.
Had things been different for O’Malley though, he could’ve found himself lining out for Mayo at the business end of the All-Ireland Championship
“Yeah, I played for Mayo minors in 2012,” explained O’Malley.
“We lost in the semi-final against Meath. It was very tough. We were well up with about five minutes to go and they scored two goals. One was a penalty, and I didn’t save that one either!”
“Anybody from Mayo you grow up playing GAA and soccer and my brother would still play GAA so it’s still something I follow closely. Whatever about playing for the Irish team but everyone from Mayo wants to play for Mayo so I still watch out to see how they’re doing.”
Whether it’s GAA, financial mathematics or professional football, O’Malley has met everything in his path with assured confidence and an admirable determination.
At just 24, he has a long career ahead of him in football and beyond.