Josh O'Connor explains why there's little point in comparing him to dad Garry
There’s always a certain amount of interest in younger players on the fringes of the first-team, but when the individual in question is the son of a former club hero then it is only going to be intensified further.
Josh O’Connor is in such a situation at Hibs. Son of Garry, the regular goalscorer from those fondly-remembered teams of the early-to-mid noughties, there’s a degree of expectation placed on his shoulders before he’s even fully integrated himself into the first-team squad.
At 18 years of age, he’s the absolute spitting image of his old man, but that’s where a lot of the similarities stop. On the pitch they may both operate in a similar position, playing in attack, though that’s about as far as it goes.
“There's always going to be pressure, folk will think you're going to be better than your dad. What I say is that it's not really about him, it's about me,” said Josh.
“You can't really compare him to me because we're completely different players. He was big, bulky. He was quite fast, but I'm fast, agile. I can play on the left or the right or play through the middle whereas he was a central player. You can compare names and that's about it."
But while being the son of a former Scotland international who earned a seven-figure move to Lokomotiv Moscow after coming through the ranks at Easter Road brings a certain expectation, Josh is adamant he wouldn’t change it for the world as he gains valuable insight away from the training structure of the Hibs complex out at East Mains.
“He watched my games and gives me some little tips, he takes a step back too and takes it all in and then tells me,” said the younger O’Connor. “He has his angry moments like every father does. But it’s unbelievable to have that type of person there supporting you, especially a striker like I am. He gives me all the tips and tricks, tells me what to do, what not to do. How to get away with things, it’s really good.”
His father is far from the only inspiration for Josh as he sets his sights on doing whatever he can to make a big impact in the game. Ryan Porteous is the latest Hibs player to graduate through the club’s academy and go on to play for Scotland after making his debut in the 0-0 draw with Ukraine last weekend. The debutant was a leading contender for man-of-the-match after Steve Clarke’s side topped the Nations League table, guaranteeing a place in the play-offs for Euro 2024 and a Pot B seeding for qualification.
Even though he’s just 23 himself, Porteous is always willing to help coach up the next generation coming through and has time for Josh whenever the youngster seeks him out for advice.
“We look at Porto as an inspiration, we see him in the building everyday, great guy. He’s got so much time for everyone and you can go and chat to him,” said O’Connor.
"As a striker, he tells me stuff about how to back into defenders. Now he’s made his Scotland debut and it’s well deserved, he’s been playing unbelievably for the last two seasons, let's be honest.
“It’s an inspiration for us, the development squad and the academy to prove it can be done that someone has come through and made their Scotland debut and will kick on and make some more. Any tips he gives are hugely important.”
For now the focus is on Wednesday evening and the visit of Molde in the second leg of their Uefa Youth League Domestic Champions Path first-round tie. The visitors hold a slender 1-0 lead from the first leg with everything to play for in the return fixture.
“It is quite good to have the European games to break up the domestic season. Obviously we have our development squad games, we had our under-18s games last season, but to get away in Europe after what we achieved last season is an unbelievable experience, both for myself and the boys,” said O’Connor.
“We go into analysis without knowing much. They’re big, physical, being Norwegian it’s what you’d expect but it’s totally different compared to what we’re used to here.
“It was a tight affair over there. They scored a set-piece. The weather suited them to a tee. It was torrential rain. We weren't used to that. It was a big astro pitch. We're going into Easter Road, we're going to go for it and we're confident we can win.”
Hibs are opening up their home ground and welcoming in supporters to try and give the youngsters the best possible chance at progressing. Tickets are £5. The West Stand will be open, as will a section behind the goals in the Famous Five stand which will be taken up by Block Seven, the supporters group who take it upon themselves to ensure a noisy atmosphere at matches both home and away.
“It's a dream for us as boys. Growing up a Hibs fan, you always want to play at Easter Road,” said O’Connor. “Obviously it's the main stage when you're a Hibs player, to go and play at Easter Road. We're all looking forward to it, to playing in front of the fans and show what we can do.
“We're hoping as many fans as possible turn up. It's a showcase. I'm really impressed with what we've got as a squad. We've got so much talent in the squad it's unbelievable.”