Selkirk are hoping to provide Garry O’Connor with a platform to reignite his stalled career and catapult the former Hibs and Scotland forward back towards the SPFL Premiership.
Managerial duo Steve Forrest and Paul Doig know O’Connor from their day job as community coaches at Hibs, and they have managed to persuade the 31-year-old to come on board with the Borders club ahead of this weekend’s Lowland League opener against Threave Rovers.
O’Connor was one of Scottish football’s brightest prospects as he burst on to the scene at Hibs around a decade ago, but the latest chapter in a spectacular fall from grace came at the end of last season when he toiled to make any impression in a short-term stint with a hapless Morton side who were relegated from the Championship.
Aged 31, the former Lokomotiv Moscow and Birmingham City forward will now play for free at Yarrow Park as he strives for one last crack at the big time.
“He’s going to play for us for free to get fit. It’s a personal favour to our management team, who are also Hibs community coaches, but Garry’s enthusiastic about it,” revealed vice-chairman Ross Anderson, who has been involved in discussions with O’Connor.
“He’s helping us out and we’re helping him out, so we’re delighted. We’re getting an experienced striker and he’s more than happy to help out and get himself fit. We’re still discussing a contract but there will be no monetary transaction involved. He’s not just here to play a one-off trial match and then leave or anything like that, he’ll be playing league games and he’s really looking forward to it.
“I think we’ll be able to keep him for a wee while, but, obviously, long term, we hope to be a stepping stone for Garry to get back to the level he should be at, which is the Premiership. He’s told us he still thinks he can still do a job at the top level in Scottish football. We’ve no doubt we can help him rebuild his career and get back to the highest level.”
With his career having been blighted by off-field misdemeanours, O’Connor has been pictured in recent times carrying a few extra pounds. Selkirk, though, are confident he will be in good shape to spearhead their Lowland League campaign.
“We’ve got full-time fitness people and sports scientists working with us so they’ll speak to Garry and work to get him fit as quickly as possible,” continued Anderson. “He’s been working on his fitness on his own in North Berwick and we expect him to be up and running within a few weeks. He might even be able to play in our first game of the Lowland League season against Threave. He’s only just turned 31, so it’s not like we’re signing someone well past their sell-by-date. He should really be at his peak now.”
The town of Selkirk has been abuzz since news of O’Connor’s latest career move emerged on Tuesday. The club, who have French youngsters playing for them as part of a scholarship scheme which allows them to learn English as well as play full-time football, are hopeful his presence will continue to have a galvanising effect.
“On the day we put the story up on Facebook, we got about 6000 hits. It went pretty haywire pretty quickly,” said Anderson. “Hopefully, he’ll add a few extra people to the gate for our games. We’d like to think some Hibs fans would come down and support him.
“We’ve got a lot of good young players here so hopefully Garry’s experience can rub off on them. When he came in on Tuesday to meet the players, a few jaws dropped. Our young French players were ‘Googling’ him to see who he was and couldn’t believe we’d managed to get him. We’ve been running a summer camp for schoolkids this week and the kids were over the moon when Garry came along and got involved.
“You could tell he already feels at home. He’s a likeable lad. We trust him and he trusts us, it all seems right.”