Ireland U21 manager Stephen Kenny has highlighted the qualities of Celtic’s new signing Lee O’Connor following the versatile defender’s move from Manchester United earlier this week.
O’Connor left Old Trafford to join the Scottish Champions on a four-year-deal after frequently impressing at Manchester United’s underage sides but failing to break into the first team.
The 19-year-old has also been a staple of international underage teams and is the most capped player in the youth ranks at Ireland. O’Connor has recently worked his way into Kenny’s under-21 team, where he has been the first-choice right-back.
O’Connor can play in a number of positions across the back-four as well as in central midfield, where he played for Ireland in the U19 European Championships. He was also part of one of Martin O’Neill’s squads during his time in charge of the Boys in Green.
His international manager, Kenny, has become hugely familiar with O’Connor since his appointment earlier this year. The 21s boss spoke on Tuesday about his move to Celtic and praised the defender’s experience and leadership qualities.
“It caught us all by surprise really,” said Kenny.
“Lee rang me on Saturday night, he’s the most capped player we have in our ranks at underage level. He’s played at every level and had an excellent European U19 Championships in midfield, he captained the team.
“He was our right-back in Toulon and was the only player who played in the five games.”
“He has a great attitude and great energy so we wish him well with his new move. We’re delighted to have him and he’s undoubtedly our first-choice right-back and hopefully he can have a good few days for these qualifiers.
O’Connor is one of a host of Irish underage internationals currently at Celtic, with the 19-year-old joining Luca Connell and Jonathan Afolabi, in making the move to the club this summer.
Neither Connell nor Afolabi have featured for the Hoops’ first team as of yet, but given O’Connor’s vast experience at underage level, first-team football will unquestionably be his priority.
Kenny feels that O’Connor will have every opportunity to prove that he is good enough for the first team over time and highlighted some of the former Manchester United man’s key attributes.
“I think he has every opportunity now and I think he’ll prove his worth over time. He’s got a great attitude, he’s really quick and has good defensive instincts and he likes to raid, these are all good attributes.”
O’Connor will almost certainly get the chance to impress once again when Kenny’s side take on Armenia in their European Championship qualifier on Friday before they travel to Kalmar to take on Sweden on Tuesday.