Josh O'Connor speaks on 'unbelievable' Easter Road debut and responds to question over Hibs future

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The last time Josh O’Connor made a first-team appearance for Hibs – his senior debut, no less – was as a late substitute in a 3-1 defeat by Aberdeen at Pittodrie during Shaun Maloney’s reign.

Despite games at Easter Road in the UEFA Youth League – with another one to come against Borussia Dortmund next week – an appearance alongside dad Garry during the Hanlon Stevenson Foundation’s charity match in November, and a runout in the friendly victory over Raith Rovers during the World Cup break, O’Connor was yet to take to the turf in a competitive senior fixture, so when he got the nod to replace Joe Newell with 13 minutes left of the cinch Premiership clash with Aberdeen on Saturday, it was an emotional occasion for the boyhood Hibee.

"It was unbelievable, to do it in front of the fans with my dad, gran, grandad, and little brother there, and for it to be a home win as well was brilliant. I’ve dreamed about this day but never a 6-0 win – we don’t get them very often! But that topped it off. You can’t beat a scoreline like that and to get a goal contribution by winning the penalty was unreal,” he told the Evening News afterwards.

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O’Connor scored one and set up the other two in a 3-1 reserve victory over a strong Livingston side last week, watched by Lee Johnson. But the 18-year-old has never been the sort of player to try harder if he knows the gaffer is watching – because he always leaves everything on the pitch.

Josh O'Connor made his home debut for Hibs against AberdeenJosh O'Connor made his home debut for Hibs against Aberdeen
Josh O'Connor made his home debut for Hibs against Aberdeen

"We had the game Tuesday and there’s been a lot going on about transfers. If I get picked, I get picked; if I don’t, I don’t but I just stay focused,” he says, when asked if he’d been given an early indication of his involvement on Saturday.

O’Connor enjoyed a fruitful season in front of goal during the under-18s’ title-winning campaign, forming a devastating partnership with Connor Young, now at Rangers, but despite Hibs struggling for goals and strikers last season with Martin Boyle sold to Al-Faisaly, Kevin Nisbet out long-term injured, and Christian Doidge battling illness and injury, neither O’Connor nor Young were regularly called upon.

"I’ve been doing it for that long that I’m used to it,” he says, matter-of-factly. “It’s what I do best: play football, score goals, get assists. Any time I step on the pitch I’m happy, whether it’s reserve games or, if I’m lucky enough, the first team.”

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An injury suffered towards the tail-end of last season robbed him of the chance to impress during the summer and as a result, O’Connor had to play catch-up in the first part of the campaign.

"I missed most of pre-season and never had that spark or fitness. It took me a bit longer to come back but I feel now I’m up and running, raring to go. I’m just working hard and that’s what I do best.”

There has been a lot of discussion about new contracts for the under-19s. Murray Johnson and Malek Zaid have already penned extensions, but O’Connor sidesteps talk of his future: "It’s not my sort of thing, I’m just happy playing football. It’s all I want to do; work hard and play football. That’s what I love.”

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