Michael O'Connor (born 6 October 1987) is a Northern Ireland international footballer who plays as a midfielder for EFL League Two club Notts County.
He began his professional career at Crewe Alexandra in 2005, and soon established himself as a first team regular. He was loaned out to Lincoln City in March 2009, and was sold to Scunthorpe United in July 2009 for a £250,000 fee. He spent three seasons with the "Iron", two of which were in the Championship, before he was allowed to sign with Rotherham United in May 2012. He helped the "Millers" to win two consecutive promotions, coming out of League Two as runners-up in 2012–13, and then winning the League One play-off final in 2014. He signed with Port Vale in July 2014, and went on to be named the club's Player of the Year in 2014–15. He signed with Notts County in June 2016.
He was one of several Northern Irish footballers involved in a dispute between the IFA and the FAI concerning international eligibility. Having initially represented Northern Ireland up to under-21 level, O'Connor was persuaded to switch to the Republic of Ireland's under-21 squad for a brief period. However, he subsequently decided to revert permanently to Northern Ireland, to whom he became irrevocably committed.
O'Connor was spotted by Crewe Alexandra scouts as a young teenager playing youth football in Northern Ireland. In 2004, shortly after he turned 16, he signed scholarship terms. He was a prominent member of the Alexandra youth team that reached the semi-final of the 2004 FA Youth Cup and he later captained the side. In July 2005 he signed a three-year professional contract. On 25 February 2006, aged 18, he made his Championship debut at Gresty Road when he came on as a late substitute for Gareth Taylor in a 2–1 win over Brighton & Hove Albion. He made his second senior appearance for the "Railwaymen" in the club's final game of the 2005–06 season against Millwall on 30 April 2006, replacing Lee Bell at half-time he went on to set up two goals and hit the post with his one shot.
He began the 2006–07 season as a regular first team player for Crewe, now in League One, under manager Dario Gradi. He scored his first senior goal on 22 August, in the League Cup, with a "fierce shot" from 18-yards in a 3–0 victory over Grimsby Town. In all he made 34 appearances during the campaign.
O'Connor was not a regular first team player under new boss Steve Holland in the first half of the 2007–08 campaign, but won back his first team spot in the second half of the season. He was named in the League One 'Team of the Week' in March 2008 for his performance in a 3–0 win over Gillingham.
After scoring his first league goal for the club on 13 September 2008 in a 2–0 victory over Colchester United, he went on to score in the next two games against Southend United and then against Liverpool in a 2–1 League Cup defeat at Anfield. However he fell out of favour at Crewe under manager Guðjón Þórðarson after committing "breaches of discipline". O'Connor joined Peter Jackson's League Two side Lincoln City on a one-month emergency loan on 6 March 2009, a day before a Lincolnshire derby against Grimsby, as a short-term replacement for Lee Frecklington. O'Connor returned from Sincil Bank on 18 April after he was suspended for picking up 10 yellow cards that season, and subsequently trained with Scottish Premier League club Hibernian.
In July 2009, Crewe accepted an undisclosed offer (later revealed to be £250,000) for O'Connor from Scunthorpe United, and he signed a three-year contract with the club. He went on to make 36 appearances for Scunthorpe in the 2009–10 campaign, helping Nigel Adkins's "Iron" to finish above the Championship relegation zone.
Scunthorpe struggled in the 2010–11 season following Atkins's departure, and Ian Baraclough and then Alan Knill failed to keep the club outside the relegation places. This was despite O'Connor significantly improving his goal tally, hitting nine goals in his 36 appearances. Premier League clubs West Ham United and Newcastle United were linked with O'Connor during the January transfer window, but Baraclough confirmed that no formal approaches were made. In the summer the club rejected an undisclosed bid from Peterborough United.
He played 36 games at Glanford Park in the 2011–12 season as Scunthorpe laboured to a mid-table finish in League One. He was subject to an offer by Hibernian in January 2012, but remained in England. He was released by the club in May 2012.
O'Connor signed a two-year contract with Rotherham United in May 2012. He made his "Millers" debut on 18 August 2012, in a 3–0 win over Burton Albion at the New York Stadium. He scored his first goal for the club in 4–0 win over Bradford City on 1 September. He scored again the following week in a 6–2 defeat to Port Vale. On 29 September, he scored twice in a 3–1 win against Oxford United. In all he scored six goal in 40 appearances as he helped Steve Evans's side win promotion out of League Two.
He made 34 appearances in the 2013–14 campaign, helping the club to reach the League One play-off final. He was an unused substitute at Wembley Stadium as Rotherham secured promotion with a penalty shoot-out victory against Leyton Orient. He was released by the club in May 2014.
O'Connor signed a one-year contract with League One club Port Vale in July 2014. He scored his first goal for the club on 26 August, hitting the net from 40-yards out in a 3–2 League Cup defeat to Cardiff City at Vale Park; this was one of the longest distance goals ever scored by a Vale player, and won him the club's Goal of the Season award. Despite this effort the local newspaper reported that generally throughout the campaign "his contribution is industrious and effective without grabbing the headlines". At the end of the 2014–15 season he was named as the club's Player of the Year, and also won the Supporters' Club's Trophy and was voted Players' Player of the Year. He signed a new contract with the club in June 2015.
He picked up a knee injury in 2015–16 pre-season training, and had to wait until October before returning to match fitness. He then lost his first team place in the new year due to a thigh strain. He retained his first team place in the second half of the season, but stated that concerns over his contract running down and the daily commute from his Lincolnshire home were becoming a strain, and that he would consider offers from more local clubs in the summer. He confirmed that he had rejected the offer of a new contract from the club in May 2016.
O'Connor signed a two-year contract with League Two side Notts County in June 2016.
O'Connor was a regular captain for Northern Ireland at every youth level up to under-20 and scored six goals at under-17 level. However O'Connor was called up to play for the Republic of Ireland under-21s for a friendly against Luxembourg in October 2006. He subsequently had to withdraw from the squad. In February 2007 he was also selected for the Republic under-21 squad to play in the Madeira Cup, but did not play in any of the three games involved. On 16 November 2007 he made his debut for the Northern Ireland under-21s, scoring in a 5–0 win against Luxembourg. On 20 November he scored again for the under-21s in a 3–0 win against Moldova. On 6 February 2008 he also played against Israel.
On 26 March 2008, O'Connor made his senior international debut for Northern Ireland in a 4–1 win against Georgia in friendly at Windsor Park; he came on as half-time substitute for Damien Johnson. Michael Gault also made his international debut in the same match.
He made his competitive debut on 10 September 2008, playing in a 0–0 draw with the Czech Republic in a World Cup qualification match.
He won a cap for the Northern Ireland B team in a 3–0 defeat to Scotland B at Broadwood Stadium in Cumbernauld on 6 May 2009.
He returned to the international scene after a three-year absence on 10 September 2013, when he featured in a 3–2 defeat to Luxembourg in a World Cup qualification game at Stade Josy Barthel. However, after missing out on the squad selected in March 2015 he said that he was considering his international future.
Speaking in July 2014, Crewe Alexandra and Port Vale teammate Tom Pope described O'Connor as "[having] everything. He’s got the range of passing, he sits in there and gets the ball moving and he gets stuck in. He whips a great ball in, has great free kicks and a lot of quality." He describes himself as a "passionate" player, though this has resulted in a number of yellow cards for dissent. Port Vale assistant manager Paul Bodin also praised O'Connor's set piece delivery and energy levels.
While on Northern Ireland under-21 international duty in December 2007, O'Connor was one of a number of players investigated by Irish Football Association for his involvement in an alleged sex tape that was published on YouTube.As of 31 May 2016.
Northern Ireland's goal tally first.Individual
Port Vale F.C. Player of the Year: 2015
with Rotherham United
Football League Two runner-up: 2012–13
Football League One play-off winner: 2014