Michael O'Connor (rugby)
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|Full name||Michael David O'Connor|
1 February 1960 |
Nowra, New South Wales
|1983–86||St George Dragons||78||33||130||9||401|
|1985–91||New South Wales||19||11||42||1||129|
|Source: Yesterday's Hero RLP saints.org.uk|
Michael David O'Connor (born 1 February 1960 in Nowra, New South Wales) is a former rugby league and rugby union footballer who represented Australia in both codes, in other words a dual-code rugby international. He played for the Wallabies in 13 Tests from 1979 to 1982 and then the Kangaroos in 17 Tests from 1985 to 1990. O'Connor played club football in the NSWRL Premiership for the St. George Dragons from 1983 until 1986, and later the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles from 1987 until his retirement at the end of 1992, becoming captain of Manly in 1990, as well as winning the 1987 Winfield Cup with the Sea Eagles.
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Originally from Canberra he toured with the undefeated Australian Rugby Union Schoolboys tour of Great Britain and France in 1977 alongside the likes of the Ella brothers Mark, Glen and Gary, as well as Queenslander Wally Lewis. His club rugby career was with the Canberra Royals, then Teachers Brisbane.
He was first selected for The Wallabies in 1979, a few months ahead of Mark Ella and others of O'Connor's prodigiously talented teammates from the 1977 Schoolboys side such as Michael Hawker and Glen and Gary Ella (Lewis by this time had chosen to play professional rugby league for Brisbane club side Valleys). Tony Melrose was the first of this side to play for the Wallabies, in New Zealand in 1978. With a number of those players he was a young starter in the 1980 Wallaby side which won the Bledisloe Cup in Sydney in the 3rd and deciding game that year. O'Connor scored a try in this game marking his ascendancy in representative rugby and coinciding with a rebirth of Australian rugby and the beginning of a golden period through to the Grand Slam achievement of 1984.
Michael O'Connor switched to rugby league, signing with New South Wales Rugby Football League premiership side, St George in 1983. In a later interview, O'Connor revealed that his father, a staunch supporter of rugby union, told him at the time that he would be "selling himself like a piece of horse flesh in rugby league" if he were to take the money on offer to play for the Dragons and turn his back on the then still amateur code.
He made his First Grade debut from the bench for the Dragons in Round 3 of the 1983 season against Western Suburbs at Kogarah Oval, scoring a try on debut. Ironically O'Connor, who would go on to be a goal kicker of note and would notch up almost 1,500 points in his club and representative career, did not kick a goal for St. George during his first two seasons at the club, with coach Roy Masters preferring Steve Gearin and Steve Rogers in the role (unlike O'Connor who was one of the newer style around-the-corner kickers, Gearin and Rogers were both front on kickers which often led to less accuracy). Following their departure from the club after 1984, O'Connor would be the Dragons first choice goal kicker in 1985, kicking 81 goals on his way to 189 points for the season (also scoring 6 tries and kicking 3 field goals).
O'Connor made his representative debut when he was selected for City Firsts for the annual City vs Country game in 1985. After impressing with 3 goals and his general play in City's 18-12 win over Country Firsts at Newcastle's International Sports Centre (later to become known as the home of the Newcastle Knights), former Queensland Red Michael O'Connor was selected to make his State of Origin debut for New South Wales in Game 1 of the 1985 State of Origin series. Heavy rain confronted the players at Lang Park when the teams took the field for the opening match of the series, and it was thought players new to Origin football such as Michael O'Connor might struggle to cope with the conditions. However the former Wallaby displayed nerves of steel to complete one of Origin's most memorable debuts scoring two tries and kicking five goals to finish with all 18 of the Blue's points. After the game, Queensland Rugby League Chairman Ron McAuliffe was heard to mutter darkly "An ex-Qld rugby bloody union international beat us".
A week before he was selected for NSW for the first time, O'Connor was hit in an accidental high tackle from Canterbury-Bankstown's Steve Mortimer in a club match at Belmore, leaving him with a broken nose (and contributing to his nickname of "Snoz"). The Bulldogs half-back was cited over the incident but received support from O'Connor at the league judiciary when he concurred with Mortimer's explanation that his arm had come up from off the ball when he made the tackle and that there was no intent of a high shot. Mortimer was cleared of the incident and went on to captain NSW in first two games of the 1985 Origin series, the first time in Origin's then 6-year history that the Blues had won the Origin Shield, with Qld having won from 1980-84. During Game 2 at the Sydney Cricket Ground, O'Connor kicked 4 goals and his only field goal in Origin football as NSW won 21-14 in front of the then biggest crowd in Origin history of 39,068 happy NSW fans.
O'Connor was part of St. George's 1985 Grand Final team that lost to Canterbury-Bankstown in front of 44,569 at the SCG. O'Connor kicked the only goal for the Dragons, a conversion of a "Slippery" Steve Morris try as they went down in a thriller 6-7. A field goal by Bulldogs winger Andrew Farrar being the difference between the two sides.
Following his performances for NSW in the first two games of the 1985 Origin series, O'Connor was selected for the mid-season tour of New Zealand. Though he didn't play in a test match, he did play in the minor games of the short tour. Controversy reigned in early 1987 following the release of a biography of Australian and Queensland captain Wally Lewis titled "King Wally". In the book, 1985 Australian and NSW coach Terry Fearnley was quoted as saying about O'Connor while on the New Zealand tour: "Can't play, no heart. Lucky he can kick goals or he wouldn't be here". This would be the cause of some animosity between O'Connor and Lewis for many years.
Michael O'Connor's international rugby league debut in the first test of the mid-season Trans-Tasman series against New Zealand on 6 July 1986 at Auckland's Carlaw Park saw him become Australia's 37th dual code rugby international following Ray Price and preceding Ricky Stuart. Playing on the Wing, Snoz kicked 3 goals in a 22-8 Australian win. He then went on to kick 4 goals as Australia wrapped up the two match series 2-0 with a 29-12 win at the SCG. With his natural pace and great side-step, many of his international rugby league appearances were on the wing, such was the depth of Australia's three-quarter talent with players like Gene Miles, Brett Kenny, Mal Meninga, Dale Shearer, Tony Currie, Andrew Ettingshausen and Mark McGaw available to the selectors during his era, though he did play most of his State of Origin career in his preferred centre position. Before the end of the 1986 NSWRL season, O'Connor signed with the Bob Fulton-coached Manly-Warringah club.
O'Connor was a selection for the 1986 Kangaroo Tour and played in all 6 tests on tour (including the pre-tour test against Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby, where he scored 22 points from 2 tries and 7 goals in a 62-12 win). He was the leading point scorer on tour for the Kangaroos with 170 from 13 tries and 59 goals from his 14 games played. O'Connor scored a personal tally of 44 points in the 3-0 Ashes series win against Great Britain, including 22 in the first test at Old Trafford where he scored 3 tries and kicked 5/9 goals in tricky conditions. He then played the final two tests on tour against a hapless French side, scoring 20 points (3 tries, 4 goals) in the 44-2 first test win at Perpignan and 16 points (1 try, 6 goals) in the 52-0 second test win at Carcassonne. The Kangaroos, for the second tour in a row following on from "The Invincibles" 1982 Kangaroo Tour, had gone through Great Britain and France undefeated, earning the 1986 touring team the nickname "The Unbeatables".
O'Connor started playing for Manly from 1987 and starred in their 18-8 1987 NSWRL season's Grand Final win over the Canberra Raiders in the last ever Grand Final played at the SCG. O'Connor scored 14 of Manly's 18 points with a try in the second half (despite questions about him and Manly winger David Ronson being onside before O'Connor fielding Dale Shearer's kick) and a perfect 5/5 goal kicking. Following the 1987 grand final victory he travelled with the champion Manly side to England for the 1987 World Club Challenge against the 1986-87 RFL champions, Wigan at their famous home ground, Central Park. In front of 36,895 (though estimates from those in attendance put the crowd as high as 50,000), Wigan won an often spiteful, but ultimately try-less game 8-2, with Manly's only points coming from a penalty goal from O'Connor. Despite being Manly's first choice kicker for the Grand Final, O'Connor generally shared the kicking duties with Hooker Mal Cochrane and only scored 129 points for the season in 21 games (Cochrane scored 138 from 25 games).
During 1987, O'Connor played on the wing in Australia's shock 6-13 loss to New Zealand in the one-off test at Lang Park. It was the second time in four years that the Australian's had lost their first test in Australia (both at Lang Park to New Zealand) following unbeaten Kangaroo Tours.
O'Connor scored tries in all three matches of the 1988 State of Origin series, which Queensland won 3-0 for the first time, despite two of the three games being played in Sydney. On 20 July 1988 O'Connor played on the wing for Australia in their record 62-point win over Papua New Guinea, scoring four tries and kicking 7 goals to set a new record for most points scored by an individual in international rugby league. Of his 18 tests, O'Connor only played three games at centre, all three during the 1988 Ashes series against the Great Britain Lions following the international retirement of Kenny, and the unavailability of both Miles and Meninga with injury. He was then chosen at centre for the Ashes series against the touring Great Britain side, the Australians winning the series 2-1. Great Britain's win in the third and final test at the new Sydney Football Stadium was their first win against Australia since the second test of the 1978 Kangaroo tour.
Following the end of the 1988 season in which Manly were bundled out in the semi-finals, O'Connor and Dale Shearer were the only Manly players chosen for Australia's World Cup Final team to play New Zealand at Eden Park in Auckland. In a spiteful match in which the Kiwis seemed more intent on doing as much physical damage to their opponents as they could rather than trying to win the game, O'Connor (playing on the wing) kicked 4/7 goals as Australia won 25-12 to win their 5th Rugby League World Cup.
O'Connor and Manly captain Paul Vautin travelled to England to play for the Alex Murphy coached St Helens for a short spell during 1988-89, but his performances were largely disappointing, culminating in the side's humiliating 27–0 1989 Challenge Cup Final defeat at Wembley Stadium against arch rivals Wigan. It was the first time in Cup Final history that a team had been held scoreless. O'Connor's specially arranged return for that match, given his unimpressive performances for the side was controversial – he took Dave Tanner's place from the side that had played in the famous 16–14 Semi-final victory over Widnes [ref 1]. Saints coach, Alex Murphy even tried O'Connor at fullback on occasions during the season, though without success. Conflicting reports have been given as the reason for the move, with Murphy claiming that O'Connor had approached him with the idea of playing fullback, while O'Connor maintains that it was Murphy's idea for him to play there and that he preferred to play centre or wing. Following the failed fullback experiment, O'Connor primarily played centre for St Helens.
During the 1989 NSWRL season, and despite Manly's poor form which would see them finish in 12th position, O'Connor was selected for Game 3 of the 1989 State of Origin series, which saw Qld record its second straight 3-0 series win, and 8th straight game win in a row, with a 36-16 win at Lang Park. Following this he was selected for Australia's mid-season tour of New Zealand where he played in all three Trans-Tasman Tests against the Kiwis as the Bob Fulton coached Aussies won 3-0 against a New Zealand side sometimes more intent on dishing out punishment (primarily from fiery lock forward Brendon Tuuta), than playing football.
O'Connor's last test for Australia was in 1990. Playing on the wing on a freezing night at the Pioneer Oval in Parkes (NSW), O'Connor, as did the other Australian goal kickers used (captain Mal Meninga, an on debut Laurie Daley, and former Manly teammate Dale Shearer), had an off-night with the boot, missing all three of his conversion attempts. Injury then ruled him out of the test against New Zealand in Wellington two months later. Following the 1990 NSWRL season, in which he had taken over the captaincy of the Sea Eagles following Paul Vautin's move to Eastern Suburbs, O'Connor ruled himself out of contention for the 1990 Kangaroo Tour because of a recurring hamstring injury.
O'Connor is remembered in State of Origin folklore for a sideline conversion for NSW in teeming rain only minutes out from the final siren to win the 2nd game of the 1991 State of Origin series 14-12 win over Qld at the Sydney Football Stadium. Despite no longer being the regular kicker for Manly due to the signing of goal kicking former All Blacks fullback Matthew Ridge, and despite the presence in the NSW team of regular club kickers Greg Alexander (Penrith) and Rod Wishart (Illawarra), Blues coach Tim Sheens gave the kicking duties to O'Connor for the series and his lack of match kicking practice showed, kicking only 3/9 for the series, all three goals coming in Game 2 in Sydney. The 1991 Origin series was the last time Michael O'Connor represented NSW.
During the third and final game of the 1991 State of Origin series, O'Connor was hit in a high tackle from Queensland centre Mal Meninga in the sixth minute, leaving him with a broken nose and two black eyes. Despite the riot act being read to both teams after a fiery Game 2, the NSWRL failed to cite Meninga for the incident and O'Connor was forced to accept an apology from him (at the time Meninga was the reigning Australian captain and there was the Trans-Tasman series against New Zealand starting a month later).
At the end of the 1992 Winfield Cup season, still on top and producing his best as captain of the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles, O'Connor announced his retirement from playing. O'Connor was rated the 50th best Australian rugby league player of all time in a Rugby League Week Special in 1992.
During his club career in Australia, Michael O'Connor played in 189 first grade games (74 for St. George, 115 for Manly). He scored 87 tries (33 for the Dragons, 54 for Manly), kicked 311 goals (131 and 180) and 11 field goals (9 and 2) for a total of 981 points (403 and 578). His last try and goal came in his final home game for Manly at Brookvale Oval on 21 August 1992, though the Sea Eagles lost 10-8 to Illawarra which ended their finals chances for the season.
He played 19 State of Origin games for NSW between 1985–91 and holds the NSW Origin point scoring record with 129 points (11 tries, 42 goals, 1 field goal). He played in 18 Test and World Cup matches for Australia from 1985–90, scoring 198 points from 17 tries and 65 goals.
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After retirement as a player O'Connor had administrative roles with both the Australian Rugby League (ARL) and then the Australian Rugby Union. He was the ARU's Talent Identification Coordinator for a number of years.
O'Connor was named as the Chief Executive of the Adelaide Rams for the 1999 NRL season, though the club's owners News Ltd chose to close the team only weeks before the season started as part of the peace deal between the ARL and the rebel Super League competition.
In 2006, O'Connor was appointed as a Wallaby Selector filling the independent role on the selection panel, along with Head Coach John Connolly and Attack Coach Scott Johnson. He was the Head Coach for the Australian Rugby Sevens team from 2008 to 2014.
- Gallaway, Bob (2003). Origin: Rugby league's greatest contest 1980–2002. University of Queensland Press. p. 68. ISBN 9780702233838.
- "Michael O'Connor". yesterdayshero.com. SmartPack International. Retrieved 5 January 2014.
- "O'Connor helps set Test records". The Age. 21 July 1988. Retrieved 18 October 2013.
- Whiticker, Alan. "Michael O'Connor". rugbyleagueproject.org. Shawn Dollin, Andrew Ferguson and Bill Bates. Retrieved 5 January 2014.
- Harris, Bret (1991). The best of both worlds: the Michael O'Connor story. Pan Macmillan. ISBN 9780732907457.
- Michael O'Connor at playtheball.com
- Michael O'Connor at stateoforigin.com.au
- Michael O'Connor at silvertails.net