Mick McCarthy’s Republic side take on New Zealand in a friendly at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Thursday night, and the manager is expected to give several fringe players a run-out so that his big hitters are fresh for the much sterner test that awaits on Monday night – the vital Euro 2020 Group D qualifier against Denmark, also in Dublin.
That means 19-year-old O’Connor, who joined Celtic on a four-year deal from Manchester United at the beginning of September, has been told that he will get game time against the All Whites.
O’Connor has been playing for the Republic of Ireland’s Under-21 side, managed by former Dunfermline manager Stephen Kenny, in recent months and they, too, have a fixture on Thursday night in the shape of a European Championship qualifier against Armenia U21s. But O’Connor is suspended for the fixture.
“Lee is in a bit by default I guess, given the fact that he is suspended for the Under-21s for their game against Armenia,” explained McCarthy, pictured, yesterday. “I didn’t have a whole lot of cover on the bench in terms of defenders, so he will get some game time [against New Zealand].”
Troy Parrott, another uncapped player who made his debut for Tottenham in the Carabao Cup defeat by Colchester earlier in the season, has also been told that he will feature against New Zealand and both players took part in their first training session with McCarthy’s senior squad yesterday.
Shamrock Rovers midfielder Jack Byrne and in-form Newcastle defender Ciaran Clark are others who will play on Thursday, although it is unlikely any of the quartet will force their way into the starting line-up for next week’s tussle with the Danes.
The Irish need to beat Denmark to secure an automatic qualification spot for Euro 2020 barring an unlikely series of events elsewhere.
McCarthy added: “There is scope for them to do themselves a whole lot of good. Whether that transmits into Monday, let’s find out. Let them get in and play well, let’s hope they play well and we win and let’s see how I feel about them after the game.”