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O'Hora hopeful that if opportunity knocks he can answer call in style

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KEEPING BUSY: Brighton youngster Warren O’Hora has been training at home in Dublin
during the lockdown. Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images

KEEPING BUSY: Brighton youngster Warren O’Hora has been training at home in Dublin during the lockdown. Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images

Getty Images

KEEPING BUSY: Brighton youngster Warren O’Hora has been training at home in Dublin during the lockdown. Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images

Going for lockdown runs in the local park on Dublin's northside, with a backdrop of complaints from a groundsman unhappy that his pitch is being cut up, is an odd way to prepare for a possible Premier League debut.

But as Warren O'Hora, and all other footballers in England have found out over the last three months, there's a new normal now.

The Premier League resumes later this week and the first game up for O'Hora's club, Brighton, is on Saturday, at home to Arsenal, a game which will have no fans present.

The 21-year-old has yet to make the first team at Brighton, coming close with a place on the bench for a League Cup tie, but there's a chance that the door to the first team could open over the coming weeks for players like him.

The likelihood of injuries due to the long lay-off, having so many games in a tight schedule, and permitting five subs in a game could see fringe players get some time on the pitch in the matches to come.

"Yeah, the door could open a bit with five subs being used, I wouldn't be surprised to see one or two of us make our debuts in the weeks ahead, to get that chance and it would be a real milestone in your career," says former Bohemians man O'Hora.

"The Under-23 players here have been told to keep ourselves fit in case the first team do need us, a few boys will be called in to train every now and again so it is a possibility for me to be called in and hopefully it does come."

Misery

It's already been a good month for him as last week O'Hora was told he would be given a new one-year deal, a real boost as he was out of contract at the end of this season. Relief for him but misery for some pals who are now unemployed, Brighton releasing six of their U-23 squad.

"Especially with these uncertain times it's a relief to have the contract sorted, it was a real release to be told I had another year as I didn't know what was going to happen before the coronavirus happened. It was a bit panicky for a while but it's good to have my future sorted," he says.

"I have mates in football who are facing hard times, I had four or five good mates from Brighton let go, now they don't know when their next pay cheque is going to come. So when I knew they'd offered me another year I was relieved but I also felt bad for my mates who'd been released."

Before the contract news came, the arrival of the pandemic caused O'Hora to make a dash for home. "It was really strange," says the Cabra native. "I went in on the Monday morning back in March, expecting to train, but the international players were all told we were being sent home due to the virus, so I just packed my stuff and got on the ferry back to Dublin.

"The club said we wouldn't be able to train over in England, the country was going into lockdown, so it made sense for us to be back home with family, it would be better for my mental health to have family around and not be on my own."

So he ended up doing his work back in his homeplace of Cabra, the spot officially called John Paul Park but better known as The Bogies, where O'Hora spent time on an ETB/FÁS course.

"We got a training schedule so I was working away but running the streets, running in parks, using water bottles for weights as I didn't have any proper weights at home. The hardest thing was to keep motivated, you are used to training in a group and driving your standards on but after a couple of weeks back in Dublin I lost that motivation, you are only competing with yourself and it was tough.

"I was back up on the old stomping ground of The Bogies, where it all started for me, that was my training ground for nine weeks, I ran around it so many times I was dizzy. The groundsman was p***** off with me as I was wearing my boots on the pitches," he laughs.

He's been back at Brighton for two weeks now but the U-23 squad are being kept apart from the first team panel, training on their own at home until the call comes from boss Graham Potter, to reduce the risk of infection. Long term, O'Hora knows that a loan spell next season in a lower league will aid his progress as he's itching to start his career.

"I am 21 now, I'm not getting any younger and I haven't played any first team football since I came over here two years ago so it's time for me to go out on loan, in a lower division and see how I can handle it," says O'Hora, also keen to break into the Ireland U-21 squad.

He's also confident that Brighton can do what's needed in the rest of this season to avoid relegation. "I think we can stay up, we have the quality in the team to do that, the players have a lot of faith in the manager and we should be safe so we can plan for next season," he says.

"The fixtures we have left are tough, we have City, Arsenal and Liverpool to play, and some key games at the other end, matches like Norwich are vital."

He's also hopeful that compatriot Aaron Connolly can do well after injury. "I spoke to Aaron the other day, we were having a game of FIFA, he feels as fit as ever and he looks very fit, he looks like he's been working really hard over the last few weeks, a lot of players used the off time to make themselves into real athletes, and hopefully he can put his injuries behind him and become the player he can be; his potential is through the roof and hopefully he can get games and goals for us before the end of the season," he added.