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Bradford City v Barnsley: Time to get Bantams back where they belong

On a winner: Bradford City manager Michael Collins congratulates Bradford City's Sherwin Seedorf after the win at the Shrewsbury.
On a winner: Bradford City manager Michael Collins congratulates Bradford City's Sherwin Seedorf after the win at the Shrewsbury.
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ANTHONY O’CONNOR became used to playing in front of full houses at Ibrox and Celtic Park during his two years with Aberdeen.

The Irishman made six appearances in total at two of Europe’s true footballing cathedrals, and he also faced Celtic in the Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park.

All represented career highlights even though the Dons, who finished as runners-up in each of O’Connor’s two seasons north of the Border, were only victorious in a couple of those games.

However, ask the 25-year-old about his memories of playing in front of big crowds and it is not just those tussles with the Glasgow clubs that spring to mind.

Instead Valley Parade and Bradford City figure high on his list thanks to a trio of visits by the then young defender in his first season as a professional footballer.

“I played here a few times with Burton,” O’Connor told The Yorkshire Post ahead of what will be his home debut for City today against Barnsley.

“Once in the league and another in the League Cup, both during the year Bradford got to the final (when Swansea City triumphed at Wembley).

“They actually knocked us out of the Cup as we lost 3-2 in extra time. An unbelievable night.

“Then there was the play-off semi-final here later that same season. The ground was rocking that night even though we won (the first leg) 3-2.

“I remember looking round the stadium and thinking, ‘How is this club in League Two?’ It was just too big for that level.”

City ended that 2012-13 season clinching promotion, Northampton Town being beaten in the final after Burton had been seen off in the second leg.

Coming on the back of that historic run to the League Cup final it was quite a year at Valley Parade.

The target since then has been to step up another level. There have been a couple of near misses, first under Phil Parkinson in the 2016 play-offs and then again a year later when Stuart McCall was in charge.

Millwall put paid to those dreams at Wembley and eight months later McCall was gone.

Now Michael Collins is the man charged with taking City back to a level at which they last played in 2004 and O’Connor, one of 15 new faces at Valley Parade this summer, likes what he has seen so far.

“The gaffer has been nothing but top-class,” added the Cork-born defender. “He knows the game, and he was a good player himself. He is like us as players, not going to take his place for granted. He works tirelessly on the training pitch every day.

“His knowledge on the game is unbelievable.”

Collins’s tenure started last week with a win, Jack Payne’s first-half strike enough to beat last season’s play-off finalists Shrewsbury Town.

O’Connor was impressive as one of 11 debutants on show, his partnership with Nathaniel Knight-Percival at the back laying the foundation for a welcome three points.

If proof was needed that he had settled quickly following the move from Aberdeen this was it. O’Connor admits finding a couple of familiar faces helped.

“I had played with Kelvin (Mellor, at Plymouth) and I also knew ‘Killa’ (Matthew Kilgallon) from Blackburn,” he added.

“When I first arrived at Bradford and trained with ‘Killa’, he turned to me and said, ‘This must be a dream come true for you’.

“That is how he is, loves a little joke. A top, top bloke and a great lad to have in the dressing room.”

O’Connor was one of the first signings made by Bradford. So early, in fact, that agreement over his free transfer was sealed four days before Collins was appointed as Simon Grayson’s successor.

City bringing in players while the search for a new head coach was ongoing is understood to have put off a couple of prospective candidates, but O’Connor saw the situation as perfectly normal.

“It was not a big thing to me,” he said. “There was a lot of speculation as to who the manager would be. Would it be this person or that person?

“But, for me as a footballer, it didn’t matter who the manager was going to be. I was going to come in and give my best, regardless of who was in charge.”

City’s capture of O’Connell came as a blow to Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes, who had been desperate for the defender to stay.

“The chance to play for this massive football club was one I couldn’t turn down,” said the former Republic of Ireland Under-21s international.

“I feel to be a better player from my time in Scotland where the manager (McInnes) was different class with me and made me more of an all-round player.

“It is a very physical game in Scotland, but coming up against Celtic and Rangers is very tactical and technical. You have to be fully switched on all the time, 100 per cent concentrated.

“I want to use that experience of playing in those big games, especially in front of this home crowd.”

As grateful as the defender is to the Dons, his focus is solely on today’s first Yorkshire derby of the League One season.

“I am looking forward to the Barnsley game,” added O’Connor. “I am used to playing in front of big crowds – I played at Celtic Park and Ibrox, both in front of 50,000. It is something I take in my stride.

“I see this as a Championship club, 100 per cent. For whatever reason we are in League One, but it happens. Look at Sunderland, they are probably a Premier League club.

“But they are here for a reason, same with us. We have to keep working hard and take it game by game.”