Why this former Sheffield Wednesday midfielder was always destined to be a manager
The thought of becoming a manager was etched on James O'Connor's mind for almost his entire playing career.
A self-confessed student of the game, the former Sheffield Wednesday midfielder’s desire to pick up knowledge from anywhere and everywhere saw him take his badges early in anticipation of a career in the dugout.
That forward planning appears to have stood him in good stead.
It is over six years since O’Connor swapped Sheffield for the States and his decision looks like a sage bit of business on his part.
Exactly four years ago to this day, June 4, 2014, O’Connor was confirmed as the head coach at Louisville City in the United Soccer League (USL) - the second tier.
O’Connor played 139 times for the Owls and was a largely underrated performer in the heart of the midfield for three-and-a-half years.
Nowadays, he is getting the attention he deserves for his coaching prowess.
He has led Louisville to first place in the USL Eastern Conference and also secured victory in the play-offs last year.
The club has continued where it left off and they currently sit two points clear at the top, with a game in hand.
The catalyst for O’Connor’s success as a manager stemmed from plenty of quizzing of his coaches whilst he was a player, including at Hillsborough.
“When Alan Irvine was at Wednesday I was always asking questions of him and his staff,” O’Connor told the Star.
“I always wanted to get more wisdom and that’s something I continue to this day.
“I started my badges when I was really young.
“It was something that I was intent on pursuing and have always been involved with the coaching aspect.
“I’d like to think I was always a student of the game because I was always asking questions of all my coaches.”
O’Connor’s admits his decision to leave Hillsborough wasn’t an easy one.
He was in and out of the team in late 2011 when he was approached by former Stoke boss Adrian Heath to make the move across the pond.
“For me it was a case of being a little bit brave and moving the family across to America,” he said.
“It was a really difficult decision because at the time Gary Megson was the manager and someone I have huge respect for.
“At the time we had a great chance of getting promoted so I had to weigh it up carefully.”
He was offered the chance to join Orlando, who were then in the USL and hoping to be granted a licence to play in the star-studded Major League Soccer (MLS).
O’Connor discussed the move with his family and after much deliberation he took the plunge.
Once at Orlando, O’Connor would go on to represent the club as player, player-coach and then step up to assistant duties.
He said: “It was pretty hectic. It’s a different culture over here and you need to adapt.”
Once settled in America, O’Connor was suddenly represented with another choice: either stay at Orlando on the coaching staff of an up-and-coming MLS side or convert to the new USL franchise based out of Louisville where he would become first-team manager.
He opted for another bold choice and took the Louisville job. The rest as they say is history although it hasn’t all been plain sailing for O’Connor at his current club.
He had to contend with building a squad from scratch and the small fact that City’s home ground is a converted baseball stadium.
Good news is on the horizon however, with the club poised to move into a brand spanking new stadium in 2020.
O’Connor added: “You start with a blank piece of paper and you’re responsible for the product. It was about going in with a culture and making sure there was good expectations. Slowly we’ve been putting an infrastructure in place at the club now and a brand new stadium in 2020 so that will be fantastic.”
O’Connor still follows the fortunes at S6, albeit from a few thousand miles away.
He recently attended a coaching session with another former Owl and admits he was hooked on following Wednesday’s fortunes from afar.
He added: “I was doing my US Pro licence with Sean McAuley (Owls’ former assistant) and when we were down there it was the day of the derby against Sheffield United.
“We were both trying to keep tabs on that whilst we were in the classroom, even though we shouldn’t have been! The two of us had fond memories of the club and I loved my time at Wednesday.
“It was a phenomenal club and I still look out for their results. My hope is that they can kick on and get into the Premier League because that’s where it should be.”