Today, we feature former Manly centre and captain Michael O'Connor for our Golden Eagles 'Where Are They Now' series.
O'Connor played 115 matches for the Sea Eagles from 1987-1992, scoring 578 points (54 tries, 180 goals, 2 fg). He also played in the 1987 premiership winning team.
Read what Sea Eagle #337 had to say about his career.
Q&A: Michael O'Connor
Firstly, congratulations on a great career. Not many top footballers get the chance to become dual internationals. It must bring you great satisfaction?
Definitely. Looking back on my career, that’s one of the great highlights, being a dual international in both codes – rugby union for four years, and then nearly a decade of rugby league.
What was your highlight from your 13 rugby Tests with the Wallabies?
The 1980s series against the All Blacks. We played three Test series out here, and we hadn’t won the Bledisloe Cup for over 25 years. We won the series 2-1.
You represented Australia in 18 rugby league Tests from 1986-90. What were your highlights?
It is hard to go past the first Test for me in 1986 at Old Trafford on the Kangaroo tour. It was a great atmosphere and it was packed to the rafters. The team I played in was so good. The backline had the likes of Peter Sterling, Wally Lewis, Brett Kenny, Gene Miles, Gary Jack, and Dale Shearer and myself on the wings. It was one of the strongest backlines that ever played. We got up quite convincingly and I scored three tries.
Following rugby, you switched to league with St George Dragons in 1983. You then joined Manly in 1987. What attracted you to the Sea Eagles?
Manly made me an offer in 1985 and I went really close to accepting it, but I didn’t. I stayed an extra two years hoping to get a premiership at St George. There were a few clubs interested like Balmain and the Roosters. But I always really admired the way Manly played their style of football. Being a back, we weren’t really restrained. We had good players, (Coach) Bob Fulton recruited well, and we had a really balanced team. We had good forwards and they dominated our game plan.
How much did you your game develop under Bob Fulton?
Greatly. ‘Bozo’ was an experienced coach who knew how to get the best out of players. He didn’t go to hard on us that first year. He was very calculated about the sort of training that we did and our preparation. It was always good fun. Everybody looked forward to going to training. There was just a really good camaraderie in the team. We really looked forward to playing a home game at Brookvale. We always had great support.
In 1987, you scored 14 points in Manly’s Grand Final win over Canberra. It was a quality team. What made that Manly team so great?
If you look at that season, we were the best team all year. We had a real scare the week before against the Roosters, and I think that was a good thing. Canberra were very much an up and coming side, that was the beginning of their era really. We really had control of that game right from the kick off. I scored a contentious try from a kick from Dale Shearer. In hindsight, I was probably a margin offside but I had one disallowed in the second half, a pass from Cliff Lyons that went backwards. The game was never sort of in the balance, we were always in charge. We had a great forward pack that was very intimidating with the likes of Kevin Ward and Ronny Gibbs. We had really good halves and great pace out wide.
How good was it for you to be able to run off great halves like Cliffy Lyons and Des Hasler?
Des was the ultimate professional. He always prepared himself so well and that’s why he is a good coach now. Cliffy brought brilliance and an unpredictable style of play. He was just so instrumental in that backline and the way the team functioned.
How do you look back on your club career at the Sea Eagles. Outside of the premiership win, what were your favourite moments?
I really loved playing for Manly. All the players got on well and so did the wives and girlfriends. We had some great characters in Mark Pocock, ‘The Mule’ (Dave Hoskins), Stuart Davis, and guys like ‘Tooves’ (Geoff Toovey) coming in. The team just blended well. We all worked hard. I played in the centres a lot with Darrell Williams. He was a Kiwi international who just complimented me so well and was very strong defensively. ‘Fatty’ (Paul Vautin) was always great. He kept the moment pretty light. His work rate was enormous and he was really respected as our captain.
You scored 11 tries in 19 matches for the NSW Blues in a distinguished State of Origin career from 1985-91. How was it to be part of the first NSW team to win a series?
It was great. We were well led by Steve Mortimer and after five years of being beaten, we were really motivated to win that series. I played in the centres with Chris Mortimer who complimented my style. It was a really strong side. It was more relief than anything to get that series win.
And what about that magnificent sideline conversion in pouring rain at the SFS to win the second match in 1991. That alone is a story worth dining out on?
The thing people don’t realise is that I was the goal-kicker at Manly for a number of years. Then we recruited a bloke called Matthew Ridge. He was a freak (laughs). He come to training and kick 15 from 15 goals, so I gladly gave up the goal-kicking duties at Manly. As for Origin, the NSW selectors didn’t really pick a specialist goal-kicker and we got beaten in game one at Lang Park. Had I been able to kick a goal from the sideline after we scored late in the game, we could have got out of jail with a draw. I was really upset with myself because I hadn’t done the practice that I normally used to do. So leading into the next game, I just practised every spare minute I had. That kick I made, I did that a number of times and visualised it. I didn’t take a lot of time with the kick and I just hit it so sweetly. It was a wet ball on a very wet night. I knew as soon as I hit it that it was going over.
How did the nick-name ‘Snoz’ come about?
‘Crusher’ (Noel Cleal) gave me that name. In 1985, we played a City vs Country game at Newcastle Stadium. I put in a chip kick for John 'Chicka' Ferguson behind the line and Steve Mortimer just collected me with a stiff arm. He put my nose over on the other side of my face. The only bloke who saw good humour in that was ‘Crusher’. He gave me the nick-name of ‘Snoz’ straight away and it stuck. I didn’t get it fixed for a number of years either so it sort of stayed like that, so people kind of understood why I was called ‘Snoz’.
What is Michael O’Connor doing these days?
I’ve been a selector for the Wallabies for the last two years. I’ve also been involved in selecting rugby players for the Olympics. I watch a lot of rugby union and rugby league when it is on. I watch a lot of golf, too. Whenever my wife walks in the room, there is always green on the tv. I enjoy a game of golf.
Where Are They Now series