Saturday 23 March 2019

Posh sums add up for O'Malley

Ex-Saint O'Malley enjoying League 1

Conor O’Malley in action for Peterborough United recently. Pic: Getty
Conor O’Malley in action for Peterborough United recently. Pic: Getty

He doesn't shout about it, but Conor O'Malley is the answer to quite a few pub quiz questions.

First man from his hometown (Westport, Co Mayo) to play in the professional leagues in England in over 50 years; the rare case of a young Irish goalkeeper (age 23) getting first-team experience at a decent level across the water; and he is almost certainly the only man involved in FA Cup action this weekend who has a degree in Mathematics tucked away.

In the long term, O'Malley hopes that he could be the answer to Ireland's conundrum for the goalkeeping position. "It would be a dream to get a senior cap, something I have to aim for at some stage," says the Peterborough United player.

"I have only ever played for Ireland with a home-based underage team and Ireland schools team. I know that the senior squad is a long way away but you have to aim as high as you can, in a few years' time who know where I will be."

But O'Malley, who has just had a good run in the side with League One team Peterborough, is content to be patient.

O'Malley saving a penalty which handed St Patrick’s Athletic the EA Sports Cup back in September 2015. Pic: Sportsfile
O'Malley saving a penalty which handed St Patrick’s Athletic the EA Sports Cup back in September 2015. Pic: Sportsfile

He's not someone who was hung up on a career as a pro in England and it took until last season for him to establish himself at League of Ireland level, with St Patrick's Athletic, and he had just turned 23 when he got his move to England last summer, which time he was a graduate. Education was a big deal for O'Malley, who showed the talent and dedication needed to complete his degree in Mathematics and Statistics, just one of many players to benefit from the Saints' link-up with NUI Maynooth (another graduate, Jake Carroll, is playing away with Cambridge United in League Two).

"I don't know if too many League One players have a degree like this. But I don't get teased about it, these days there is a lot more awareness among footballers that there is a life outside of the game, people appreciate education more as you have something to fall back on," he says.

"I missed two games with St Pat's, due to exams, at one stage and that cost me as I was then out of the team for two or three months, I needed a lot of time off for study and to sit exams but maths was always something I was interested in. My girlfriend is an actuary so it's a big thing for me. When I was 14 or 15 I was quite small so I wasn't that great at football, school and college were more in my mind than being a professional footballer. I didn't have trials or anything like that."

A promising GAA career went as far as the Mayo minors but soccer began to take over, the keeper progressing with Mervue United, Salthill Devon, a spell with Shamrock Rovers and then that move to St Pat's.

And from there came the move to England, last August, and he's been bedding in ever since.

"We have very good players in the league back home but it's still a step-up when you come over here, the intensity and standard of training, it's a lot more professional, the crowds are bigger," says O'Malley, who made his league debut for the Posh in front of a crowd of 5,200 punters, against Blackpool.

"We played away to Rochdale last week and there were only 2,500 at it. But earlier in the season we played away to Bristol Rovers (his first time on the bench) and the gate was 10,000, here was 9,000 at the game away to Charlton this week, so the gates are bigger and the fan-base is different.

"It's a bigger deal over here, compared to the League of Ireland and the step-up is bigger than I thought. I played a few games in the Checkatrade Trophy, to get my bearings, and did ok, then it was a case of getting a few games in the league. Now the aim is to push on and play more."

After two games in the Checkatrade, he got onto a bigger stage, starting against Tranmere in the FA Cup with another appearance in a replay which Posh won 5-0.

He then played in two league games, both at home, including a 2-1 win over Portsmouth, but a sub-par display by the team in a defeat to Rochdale last week was costly, O'Malley dropped for a midweek trip to play Charlton, and he's unsure if he will play in tomorrow's FA Cup second round tie with Woking.

"Yeah, my last game was against Rochdale, but it was a bad night for a lot of us so the manager made changes for the following match," he says.

"I could understand his decision, by last week I'd played six games in 18 days which was a lot, even in the League of Ireland I don't think they'd make you play that many games.

"I don't know if I will be on the bench for a spell now. The keeper we have on loan (Jonathan Bond) goes back to his own club, Reading, next month, so if I do well enough in the next few weeks I'd hope to take over as No. 1 when he leaves, we will see how it goes.

"I played in the last FA Cup game, I don't know if I'll get to play tomorrow, hopefully there are more FA Cup matches to come."

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