From Nottingham Forest and Celtic to Harrogate Railway, via the racetrack
Harrogate Railway Athletic have appointed a new manager.
Nothing too surprising about that statement.
There has been something of a revolving door at Station View in recent years, with eight different first-team bosses coming and going prior to Mick O’Connell taking on the role following predecessor Des Macorison’s departure earlier this week.
A couple of things that should however make supporters of the club sit up and take notice of this latest appointment is the pedigree and colourful past of the man charged with reviving ailing Railway’s fortunes.
O’Connell, 33, hails from County Kildare in Ireland, but was schooled in football by two powerhouses of the British game.
He had to leave his family behind and move abroad to undertake a scholarship at Nottingham Forest at the age of just 13.
Following a couple of seasons there, he then went on to spend a year playing in the academy at Scottish giants Celtic.
Things didn’t quite work out for O’Connell at Parkhead, but some advice from one of his coaches following his release by the Bhoys was to lead to an unprecedented career change.
“I learned so much up there at Celtic. It was a very structured environment but I had a great time. There were so many good people, good coaches,” he said.
“When I got released, one coach told me that I could be a jockey. I didn’t really believe him, but I thought ‘sure, why not, I’ll give it a try.’
“I wasn’t expecting anything to come of it, but I did okay and ended up making a career out of horseracing.”
To say that O’Connell did “okay” as a flat jockey is a bit of an understatement.
He rode hundreds of winners and was able to travel the globe honing his talent until a devastating injury ended his career in 2013, halfway through his most successful season to date.
“I think I ended up riding just short of 500 winners in the end,” the Irishman added.
“I went all over the world and I’ll have ridden at nearly every single racecourse in the UK. There were a lot of highlights, but winning a big Grade Two race in France for a trainer who was a friend of mine and has since passed away is right up there with my best memories.
“Unfortunately, the injury that I got that forced me to retire came at the worst possible time.
“I had just landed my first big job as a stable jockey for John Quinn (of Malton, North Yorkshire) and was having my best-ever season in terms of winners.
“I broke back my back, severed the sciatic nerve and ruptured two discs and wasn’t allowed to ride again. What happened was so bad that I couldn’t get a licence, it would have been too dangerous.”
It was at that point, that thoughts of a return to football began to surface.
“I think it took me two and a half years to fully recover from the injury and to be fit enough to think about playing football again,” O’Connell added.
“I was living in Bedale by this point, so I just played locally for the village team before I went to Garforth Town for a spell.
“I’d always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to get into coaching one day so I started doing my badges.”
O’Connell’s first experience of Railway came in the summer of 2017 when he was brought to the club as part of a major overhaul by then-manager Liam Gray.
He played regularly during the first part of that season, until Gray departed and O’Connell shifted his focus to coaching.
He took up a role with National League North outfit Darlington’s under-18s side, progressing to their under-23s before first-team boss Tommy Wright added him to his coaching staff.
O’Connell left his position with the Quakers when Wright was sacked in April last year.
He then had a spell away from the game before being asked by Rail chairman Mick Edwards to assist Macorison.
With the Starbeck club trapped in the NCEL Division One relegation zone, Macorison left the club on Monday, and O’Connel took the reigns.
He is under “no illusions” as to the size of the task at hand as he tries to save Railway from a third relegation in five years, but insists that he is relishing the challenge.
“It’s a tough gig, there’s no doubt about it, but I’m looking forward to it,” O’Connell said.
“There are still 18 games to go and I’m confident in my ability as a coach and in my assistant Josh Walsh, who I’ve brought in to help me.”