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Interviews

First, Best, Worst: Kevin O’Connor

Promotions, relegations, highs and lows. We chat to Bees legend Kevin O’Connor about his experiences in a Brentford shirt

13 June 2018

Brentford through and through, Kevin O’Connor made 501 appearances for The Bees and scored 46 goals in a career that spanned almost two decades.

The current B Team Head Coach, O’Connor has been in his current role since November 2016.

Added to the Brentford Hall of Fame in 2015, the former Republic of Ireland Under-21 international is fourth on the Club’s all-time player appearances list.

FIRST…

Time you signed an autograph

I was a little bit embarrassed; I didn’t really know what I was doing. I tried to make it all precise and then realised you have to do loads of them so you make it as quick and easy as possible. The first time I signed an autograph must have been around the time when I made my debut at 17 - it was a weird experience for me.

Time you realised you could make a career out of football

It was probably in my mid-20s when I thought, ‘hold on, I could have a decent career.’ I never wanted to let anyone down and that’s what drove me on. I started playing well in the team under Martin Allen. I told myself that if I could do this, and do this right, then I could keep going for a while.

Room-mate

My first room-mate was Carl Hutchings when we went to play Exeter City away. He was a little bit older and it was a new experience for me - I didn’t really know him. He kept himself to himself, really.

Taste of international football

It was Georgia and Albania away as part of a 14-day trip. I did alright in training. I remember before the first session wondering if I was going to be anywhere near good enough for the team, but I actually did okay. That gave me confidence and so I came on in the Georgia game with 15 minutes to go and set up the equaliser for Noel Hunt. That’s when I thought, yes, I can do it at this level. I really enjoyed it. Then I started the Albania game and didn’t play so well. It was a proper international match and they were a very different team to play against.  

BEST…

Game you played in for Brentford

The Everton match in the League Cup in 2010 was probably the best, or even the one away to Birmingham City a few weeks later. We should have won the Birmingham game after the Everton performance. I always enjoyed the one-off games as you are holding your own against established Premier League players. At the time you don’t realise, but afterwards you think back and realise we were more than a match for them.

Player you came up against

I was lucky enough to get on the pitch for a Cup game at Newcastle in 2001 against Alan Shearer. He was my favourite opponent because he was my hero growing up and I managed to get on the pitch with him. I even asked him for his shirt during the game but he said he had already promised it to Paul Evans.

Then I had to man-mark Georgi Kinkladze when we played Derby County in the Third Round of the FA Cup. Wally Downes told me to man-mark him and that was an experience because when I was growing up I remember the clips of him at Manchester City taking on about four or five players and scoring. I’ve got his shirt at home. I offered him mine but he politely declined.

Manager you’ve played under

I’ve had some good, good managers. In the early days I had Steve Coppell and Ray Lewington. Wally Downes was a very good coach, and Martin Allen had a massive impact on my career. Andy Scott did well, too. I take bits from all of them; Coppell’s attention to detail, Martin’s man management and Mark Warburton’s way of dealing with the squad as a whole.

Moment in a Brentford shirt

I was in the shirt but I had a jumper over it when we had just been promoted against Preston North End in 2014. It meant so much to the Club, the fans and everyone that day. I remember walking towards the tunnel with the fans on the pitch. I found Peter Gilham and we hugged, both with tears in our eyes. I knew what it meant and Pete knew what it meant - and it was just brilliant for everyone.

Thing about being a professional footballer

It was the fact that you were doing something you really enjoyed. I remember going into the training ground, working hard and kicking a ball around. To get paid to do that was just amazing. The best feeling you can have is when you are walking off the pitch after a win, the fans are buzzing and you truly understand how they feel. On the flip side, the worst feeling is when you are walking off knowing you haven’t played well, the fans are having a go at you and it hurts just as much for yourself as it does for them.

Thing about being a one-club man

It’s probably that I have grown up with the Club. I have a very good knowledge of Brentford - I have seen it at real low points and I’ve seen it now. It’s great to be a part of. Peter Gilham is the same, and there are others who have been here longer than me. We all want the best for the Club and we won’t let people stray from that - it’s always Brentford first. It’s been like having a new club at least four or five times with the turnover in staff and players.

WORST…

Moment in a Brentford shirt

The first was at Crewe Alexandra in 2007, when we officially got relegated after losing 3-1 on the day. We were getting relegated, it was just a matter of time. We still had four games left so that was very tough because of what it meant to everyone. It was that feeling of letting people down and that you had affected people’s lives - that’s the hardest bit to take.

The second one was Doncaster Rovers in 2013. That day, and a couple of days after, was really tough. Doncaster was a weird feeling because it was out of my hands, however I still felt responsible.

Behaviour from a fellow professional footballer

I played for Brentford mainly as a League One club and we had a few lads who thought they had made it after a couple of games at that level. There’s so much more to get out of the game than that and it would frustrate me, particularly in young players.

I try to make that a lesson for the players I coach now. People get professional contracts way too easily because of the way the system has changed. Young players see ‘professional’ written down and at times it goes to their head. I try to make them realise that there is so much more that they can be doing for the Club and for the community. There’s the Premier League and international football to be striving for, too. That’s where I want my players to be aiming.

Injury

I had two in quick succession and no one touched me for either of them. The first one was when a tendon just went around my ankle when I was playing in an FA Cup game. That just gave way, and then took a while to get back from. The broken leg sounds worse when we played at Portsmouth. I came on as a sub and tried to get the ball past someone and fell awkwardly on my foot. I felt it all go in my leg. I thought I had just done my ankle then realised my knee was hurting as well, and it turned out I had broken a bone and popped some ligaments. They were the only two operations I had to have as a player and they came within two years of each other.

Decision given against you

The worst decision given against me was probably my only sending off. The frustrating thing was that I went to play the ball, caught the top of it, and my momentum took me over the top. It was Ben Strevens when we played against Dagenham. I saw him wink at the physio and I knew there was nothing wrong with him - that was the hardest one to take. He became my team-mate the season after, so I had a little chat with him during his first couple of days about it!

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