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The Shouting Men column with Gillingham's on-loan Southampton player Tom O'Connor

I’m enjoying the experience of playing infront of a crowd.

It’s the big difference being here than with the under-23s at Southampton.

Tom O’Connor is enjoying the taste of the Football League at Gillingham Picture: Ady Kerry
Tom O’Connor is enjoying the taste of the Football League at Gillingham Picture: Ady Kerry

The games in the Football League mean a lot more to people, not just the coaches and the people at the club.

At Southampton the fans are concentrating on the first team rather than the 23s but you come here, playing in the league, and the pressure is on.

You do feel it a little bit more on the pitch but it’s a good experience for me here at Gillingham.

As a left-back I get to hear the crowd and I especially did at Portsmouth. I think a few of them knew that myself and Alfie Jones were on loan from Southampton. During the warm-up they were giving us some stick but I didn’t take much notice.

Tom O'Connor jumps with Ronan Darcy as the Gills take on Bolton Picture: Ady Kerry
Tom O'Connor jumps with Ronan Darcy as the Gills take on Bolton Picture: Ady Kerry

That was a tough place to go but we set up to be solid defensively and to give away as few chances as possible. It was a good result in the end.

This is my fifth year over in England and it was a bit daunting to start with but within a couple of weeks I settled in at Southampton and got to know the lads, which made it a bit easier.

Before moving to England, at the age of 15, I played Gaelic football and hurling over in Ireland. I played them as much as I did football.

More on the Gills;

It was a tough decision to pick one of them to concentrate on, but hurling and football were my favourites; it was between those two but I got the opportunity to go to Southampton so I chose that.

Hurling is an amateur sport in Ireland but is massive over there. I played for my local team Tullogher and it’s probably the number one sport.

Our team wasn’t the best but we did end up winning the under-14 county final. I was good enough at it but I would have had to work at the same time unless I got to the top level and got sponsorship.

My whole family are into sports, my two brothers and two sisters. My parents like sport too but we kept them busy taxing us around!

I’ve also got a cousin Donagh O’Connor who is a jockey, he is out injured at the moment, he fell and injured his neck and was in a brace.

He is a flat jockey and last year I got to see him race at Newbury. It was close enough from Southampton to go up and watch. He didn’t get a winner at Newbury though and I had backed him! He’s doing alright though and has had a good few wins.

Playing the different sports over in Ireland has helped me.

You do get whacked a few times playing hurling, you have to take a bit, while Gaelic football uses the same type ball. You’re kicking and it is physical with a lot of running, so they are all good for fitness.

If I hadn’t played those sports then maybe I might not be over here at all. They have helped get me more used to physical sports.

I had interest from a few clubs in England when I was younger but Southampton invited me to a competition in Northern Ireland and I had a week there, I liked it, they offered me to come over for a couple of years and it’s hard to turn down a Premier League club. It’s all you want to do when you are younger.

We got promoted last year in the under-23s, winning the Division 2 play-off final at St Mary’s, after finishing second in the league.

There were a few fans there and it was a good way to end the season. I enjoyed being captain of the team but all the lads are good so it wasn’t the hardest task.

I didn’t realise until I came here that John Egan has been here previously. He’s doing well now and was man-of-the-match for Ireland recently.

Some lads go through a Premier League academy and straight into the first team but there are different paths for everyone. For John, he took a step back to play for Gillingham and I’m hoping to benefit from that too.

Tom O'Connor goes down under a challenge from former Gill Josh Hare Picture: Ady Kerry
Tom O'Connor goes down under a challenge from former Gill Josh Hare Picture: Ady Kerry

I’m playing left-back in the team which is a bit of a change for me. I’ve played defensive midfielder or centre-back last season but I played on the left of a three so it’s not too much different.

We changed to wing backs against Bristol Rovers which gave me chance to get further forward and I got a goal in that match. It was my first Football League goal and I was in the right place at the right time.

We’ve got Peterborough this weekend, which will be tough, and I think their front three have scored a few, they are on fire. We were unlucky to concede against Southend and we have been solid enough, and since a disappointing performance against Oxford we have regained our shape.

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