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O'Connor can make sizeable impression

IT had once seemed certain that putting Garry O'Connor into a Morton shirt would be stretching it a bit.

Garry O'Connor with his former strike partner Tam McManus playing for Hibs in 2003. Picture: SNS
Garry O'Connor with his former strike partner Tam McManus playing for Hibs in 2003. Picture: SNS

That had little to do with the resilience of the material and rested instead on the bulging talent which had barely been contained during a first season at Hibernian and consented to a future of international appearances and multi-million pound transfer fees. O'Connor would represent his country 16 times and agree lucrative moves to Russia and then England but such promise has proven too hard to keep. The striker had long since lost his way before arriving at Cappielow earlier this month.

He has returned to the spotlight but his capacity to perform has still to be illuminated, popular opinion having moved from a discussion about a waste of talent to pot-shots at his waist-band. The 30-year-old still carries some heavy baggage from when a broken career led him to fracture laws - one arrest for cocaine possession has still to be resolved - and such weighty issues would now appear manifest in an unflattering girth.

O'Connor always had a full figure but it would be belittled when he was pictured holding a Morton scarf aloft with a club shirt pulled over his head, the image inviting a few remarks about how out of shape he has allowed himself to become.

The forward made his debut on Saturday and would admit that playing the full 90 minutes of a goalless draw with Raith Rovers had left him "pretty tired". This was a confession which seems apposite of a player who last made a competitive appearance late in 2012 while at Russian side Tom Tomsk, although O'Connor is no longer a typical athlete looking for a second wind.

He is a lost talent who must hope to find redemption in the depths of the SPFL Championship, and while the light dims on Morton's ambitions of staying up this season.

A draw with Raith has left the Greenock side eight points adrift at the bottom of the league and Kenny Shiels has sought momentum in this transfer window. He agreed terms with the former Brighton & Hove Albion defender Ben Sampayo yesterday thus bringing to six the number of players he has signed since his appointment last month. He has asked O'Connor to take the lead, even if such responsibility might once have fit as comfortably as his new shirt.

"Garry has got a point to prove to a lot of people and he has got to go in there and be hungry to do well," says Tam McManus, who spent five years playing alongside O'Connor in the first team at Hibs. "If he has the bit between his teeth and is fit then he can go and get 10 goals for himself between now and the end of the season, no doubt about it. It just depends how fit Garry is. It is a good signing for Morton. They have not got a lot to lose; they can't score a goal anyway . . ."

Attending to that inhibition will likely be a welcome distraction for a striker in need of new focus. The past continues to promise much from O'Connor - he scored nine goals in his first full season at Hibs and got the winner for Lokomotiv Moscow in the 2007 Russian Cup final - and a short-term contract at Morton has allowed him still to gain some measure of fulfilment, albeit on a smaller scale.

"This is probably his last chance to be something," says McManus. "I hope he goes and takes it. If he is focused on playing football again then he is only 30 years old, he has a good four or five years left in him, if he takes care of himself."

McManus might consider that he is covering old ground, his own career path once also leading to questions about his attitude. It would be a wayward discussion since the 32-year-old is an articulate judge of character, while he has also found contentment on the pitch - the striker close to agreeing a return to the USL Professional Division in the United States this summer. He had been playing with New York-based club Rochester Rhinos until the end of the last campaign.

Derek Riordan will likely feel that he has been wandering on to foreign football fields, too, with the former Hibs forward having been training with part-time side Alloa Athletic of late. Having last played competitively in December 2012 while at Bristol Rovers, a drop in fitness means he has still to pick up a new club. "It comes down to what sort of mindset they are in," added McManus. "Do they want to play football again? Because they both have unbelievable talent."

Perhaps even enough to get both players back to the top of their game. Although right now that might seem a bit of a stretch.

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