O’Connor shines as faceoff specialist
Greg Hadley | Tuesday, February 25, 2014
With a little over eight minutes left in No. 11 Notre Dame’s 19-7 rout of Jacksonville, Irish senior midfielder Liam O’Connor lost his final faceoff of the night to Dolphins freshman Sam Rosengarden.
It was a small blemish on a dominating night that put an exclamation point on O’Connor’s long road back from injury.
“Last year, I blew my knee out against St. John’s,” O’Connor said. “Then it happened again over the summer, so I was limited throughout the fall. I couldn’t play at all. Coming back, there was a question of whether I would be on the field at all, but I was lucky enough to work with our trainer, Mandy Merritt, and some other faceoff guys to get my leg back to full strength for Jacksonville.”
O’Connor won 21 of his 25 faceoffs, picked up 15 groundballs and scored the seventh goal of his career. Afterwards, coach Kevin Corrigan singled out O’Connor’s performance as the most encouraging development of the game for the Irish (1-1). For O’Connor, it was simply a relief to be back out on the field.
“It was great to be out there playing again,” O’Connor said. “I love lacrosse and I love facing-off, so while it’s unfortunate that I got hurt, I’m very fortunate to have the support of my teammates and coaches and the training staff.”
Injuries have been a common theme throughout O’Connor’s career, even as he has emerged as Notre Dame’s faceoff specialist. He played in 38 games throughout his first three seasons and as a freshman, ranked 18th in the nation in faceoff percentage.
“When I was a sophomore, I got a concussion against Duke, but I came back from that,” O’Connor said. “I had thumb surgery at the end of my sophomore year as well.”
Despite the obstacles, O’Connor has established himself not only as a faceoff specialist but also as a part of the team’s transition offense. He has recorded nine points on his career and leads the team in groundballs this season.
“I really love playing the transition game,” O’Connor said. “I don’t get many chances to play settled offense because we have great guys who also play midfield like [senior] Jim Marlatt. But anytime I win the faceoff war and clear the ball, we’re on offense and pushing it towards the cage so we can get it to our attackmen for a look in an unsettled situation. We can steal one or two goals like that and give ourselves room on the offensive side.”
After a tough 9-8 loss to No. 10 Penn State last Saturday, the road does not get any easier for the Irish and O’Connnor, who open ACC play against No. 3 North Carolina on Saturday. The Tar Heels (3-0) feature one of the premier faceoff men in the country in senior R.G. Keenan, who was a First-team All-America selection in 2012. O’Connor, however, welcomes the challenge.
“We’re looking forward to North Carolina,” O’Connor said. “There’s just going to have be more preparation from us, from our coaches and from our faceoff guys in particular. If I can win the faceoff and give our team the ball on the offensive end on a continual basis, then I think we have a really great chance to win.”
The Irish and O’Connor will go for the upset of the Tar Heels on Saturday at 3 p.m. in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Contact Greg Hadley at [email protected]