In the latest entry of Kenny’s Kids‘ series on exciting young Irish footballers, he runs the rule over QPR centre back Conor Masterson.
It has been a long journey from Lucan to Loftus Road for Conor Masterson, but one that has molded the man we see today.
The Celbridge native joined Lucan United at an early age,where his father Ciaran coached him for a number of seasons. Tough competition in the DDSL and some exceptional performances in the Kennedy Cup caught the eyes of top scouts from England, including Liverpool, who signed him for a reported fee of €1 Million back in 2013.
However, UEFA’s rules on transfers meant it wasn’t until September 2014 that the then U17 international completed his move. Conor progressed well through the Liverpool ranks, lining out for the U23s within weeks of his 17th birthday.
A natural passer of the ball, Conor was also tried out as a defensive midfielder in several matches with the U23s. The U18 captain impressed Klopp to the extent that he made the bench in their FA Cup tie with Exeter in January 2016.
Masterson continued to push for a chance and was permanently promoted to the U23s in the 2017/18 season. Masterson was more than comfortable at this level, and was also getting additional game time in the UEFA Youth League.
An injury crisis towards the tail-end of Liverpool’s season led to Klopp calling upon the then-U19 international to the bench, first against Man City in the quarter final of the Champions League followed by the Merseyside derby a few days later. Unfortunately for Conor, he did not get his chance to impress, and was subsequently released the following season.
Stephen Kenny as the new Republic of Ireland U21 manager was pushing for as many games as possible to prepare his side. He pushed for Ireland’s inclusion in the Toulon tournament at a time when the FAI was struggling financially.
The appointment of Stephen Kenny was perfectly timed for Conor, he was immediately promoted to the U21s and Toulon acted as a showcase for the host of English clubs interested in his services. QPR won the race and signed Conor on a two-year deal in July 2019.
The wait for first team football continued as QPR were knocked out of the EFL Cup early. By January, Conor had only made a number of appearances for their U23 side.
He finally got his chance in the FA Cup in a 5-1 win against Swansea.
There were plans to send him out on loan but Conor let his football do the talking and has since made 8 appearances for QPR in the Cup and league.
Still only 21, Conor has clocked in over 500 minutes for the Superhoops, he boasts and average of 55 passes per game with an accuracy of 88.4%.
In the space of about a year Conor has gone from Liverpool U23s and Ireland U19s to impressing in the Championship and topping an U21 qualifying group featuring Italy, Sweden and Iceland.
“Stephen just doesn’t like us kicking it long,” Masterson says.
“He just doesn’t like it. He wants us to play all the time. Obviously if you’re the goalkeeper or at the back there are times when you have to kick it long. He understands that but whenever possible we need to play because he believes that’s the best way.
“Irish people want to see that evolving style and he thinks he is the man to do it. Stephen has been brilliant with me, the team and we all love playing for it. He gets the best out of us at the crucial moments. It’s down to us as well but he has been a huge influence.”
There are too many examples from Irish footballers in the UK who have been forced to wait much longer than they should have to prove their worth.
That said, so many of the Under 21 players have found themselves playing first team football this season and many will be pushing for a senior International Debut.
I have a feeling Kenny will be promoting at least one defender when football returns, Dara O’Shea and Nathan Collins have strong cases to make but Conor himself is the only one playing centre back on a regular basis.