James Francis Edward O’Connor (born 20 November 1984) is an English professional footballer who plays as a defender for League One club Walsall.
An FA Youth Cup winner with the Aston Villa youth team, he played on loan at Port Vale before making his name with Bournemouth in the 2005–06 season. Following this he was brought to Doncaster Rovers for a £130,000 fee in May 2006. He established himself as an essential first team player for the club, helping Sean O’Driscoll’s side to the Football League Trophy in 2007 and promotion out of the League One play-offs in 2008. Voted Player of the Season at the club in 2009–10, he lost his first team place under Dean Saunders during the 2011–12 relegation campaign as Doncaster were relegated to League One.
In August 2012, he joined Derby County for an undisclosed fee, but was transfer listed in May 2013 and loaned out to Bristol City from September 2013 until January 2014. He signed with Walsall in June 2014.
O’Connor went to Wheelers Lane Boys School in Birmingham between 1996 and 2001. He joined the Aston Villa youth set-up in 1997 after his P.E teacher Mr Alan Miller recommended O’Connor to the club as a creative midfield player. He instead established himself as a strong defender, and featured in the 2002 FA Youth Cup win. A traffic collision early in the year had ruled him out for a number of months and he missed the first leg of the semi-final, but returned to help his side resist an Everton attack fronted by Wayne Rooney in the final.
Turning professional with Aston Villa in 2004; later in the year he enjoyed a three-month loan spell atLeague One side Port Vale to gain first team experience. He played 15 games for Martin Foyle’s “Valiants” in 2004–05.
Not making the grade at Villa, he joined Bournemouth on loan at the start of the 2004–05 season and in January 2005 signed permanently, after Villa agreed to a free transfer. O’Connor quickly became an integral part of the team, making his name as a tough tackler and promising player, playing in either one of the full-back positions. He scored his first and only goal for the “Cherries” in a 2–2 draw with Scunthorpe United at Glanford Park on 8 April 2006. Recovering from a hand injury, he helped manager Sean O’Driscoll to keep the Dean Court club five points above the League One relegation zone in 2005–06.
In May 2006, he was sold to Doncaster Rovers for £130,000 due to Bournemouth’s financial difficulties, after manager Dave Penney offered him a three-year contract. Only four months into his career at theKeepmoat Stadium, his former boss Sean O’Driscoll was installed into the management position at Doncaster. O’Connor made a solid start to his Rovers career in the 2006–07 season with consistent performances throughout the season in defence. He capped a fine season by helping the club to Football League Trophy success following a 3–2 win over Bristol Rovers at the Millennium Stadium.In the 2007–08 season, O’Connor began to excel in the right-back slot, providing width and speed to the Rovers attacks, as well as playing his part as a key player in a solid defence. He recovered from a hernia operation in February to play a vital part in the club’s promotion campaign. O’Connor was named Man of the Match as Doncaster beat Leeds United in the League One play-off final at Wembley Stadium. Not long after this he pledged his future to Doncaster by signing a new three-year contract.
During the following season, O’Connor helped Doncaster to secure a 14th-place finish in the Championship. Along the way he scored the only goal in their win against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane. O’Connor was awarded all three of the club’s available supporters awards, including Player of the Season, for the 2009–10 season after a succession of good performances playing at right-back and centre-half. He scored his only goal of the season away at Brentford in the FA Cup Third Round. He started the 2010–11 season by scoring Doncaster’s first goal of the season in a 2–0 win over Preston North End at Deepdale. He went on to make 37 starts despite an injury hampered season, with one of the highlights being his second goal of the season against local rivals Scunthorpe United in a 3–1 win at Glanford Park. However he lost his first team place after Dean Saunders took charge of the club in September 2011, and watched from the sidelines as “Donny” were relegated out of the Championship in last place in 2011–12.
On 1 August 2012, O’Connor joined Derby County for an undisclosed fee, signing a two-year contract with an option for a further year. O’Connor made his debut at Pride Park in a 2–2 draw with Sheffield Wednesday on 18 August, coming on for Nathan Tyson as a 74th minute substitute. He made his first start three days later, in a 2–0 defeat to Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium. Two days after the Bolton match, Derby manager Nigel Clough praised O’Connor by saying; “With only two [league] games played this season, we’ve seen the value of James already. He can play anywhere across the back four and he just slots in with no fuss whatsoever. He’s a good, competent Championship player and there aren’t too many about like him who can come in and do a job in so many positions; he’s a very good and important player to have in the camp.” He scored his first goal for the “Rams” in a 2–0 home win over Barnsley on 6 November. O’Connor covered at left back for the injured Gareth Roberts in December 2012, after he fell behind Jake Buxton and Mark O’Brien in the pecking order in central defence. In February 2013, it was reported that O’Connor had picked up a knee injury. In March, he returned to full first team training, with a scheduled return to the match-day squad for Derby’s game on Good Friday, 29 March. However, he did not make a first team appearance before the end of the campaign, and ended the 2012–13 season with 23 appearances. In May 2013, O’Connor was informed that he would not figure regularly at Pride Park during the upcoming2013–14 season, and he was allowed to look for a move elsewhere. In August, it was reported the O’Connor was training with Bristol City of League One with the view of a permanent transfer.
On 2 September 2013, O’Connor signed a loan deal until 13 January with Bristol City again linking up withSean O’Driscoll, with a view to a permanent transfer. However he soon picked up a thigh injury that restricted him to just four appearances. New “Robins manager Steve Cotterill decided against making the move permanent once the loan period ended. O’Connor did not feature for Derby County in the 2013–14season and was released in the summer by new manager Steve McClaren.
On 21 June 2014, O’Connor signed a one-year contract with League One side Walsall. “Saddlers” managerDean Smith had this to say: “In James, we have signed an extremely reliable and solid defender. There were a lot of teams interested in him when he left Derby County, but I am delighted that he has chosen to come here. It certainly is a big bonus for us and I look forward to working with him.” He was not named in the squad for the 2015 Football League Trophy Final at Wembley Stadium, a 2–0 defeat to Bristol City, but denied rumours that he and Smith had fallen out over the issue. He was frequently used at right-back during the 2014–15 season, but returned to centre-back for the final stretch of the season as he helped Walsall to steer clear of the relegation zone.
Able to play across the back four, O’Connor possesses vision, stamina and pace going forward, whilst also remaining organised and disciplined whilst defending.
Full name James Francis Edward O’Connor
Date of birth 20 November 1984 (age 30)
Place of birth Birmingham, England
Height 5 ft 11 in (1.80 m)
Playing position Defender
Current team Walsall
1997–2004 Aston Villa
Years Team App (Gls)
2004–2005 Aston Villa 0 (0)
2004 Port Vale (loan) 13 (0)
2005 Bournemouth (loan) 6 (0)
2005–2006 Bournemouth 39 (1)
2006–2012 Doncaster Rovers 215 (4)
2012–2014 Derby County 22 (1)
2013–2014 Bristol City (loan) 3 (0)
2014– Walsall 35 (1)