MICHAEL PEARLMAN SAYS: My verdict on O'Connor controversy
11:02am Tuesday 14th January 2014 in Sport
MY THANKS of course to Aaron O'Connor, @Ocizzle, for putting me in such a fun position with this week's column, discussing his divisive Twitter rant.
There seems to be an expectation that the County columnist dissects this one and despite the fact I'm risking ruining a good working relationship with O'Connor and enrage some supporters, I'm nothing if not a glutton for punishment.
O'Connor is a prolific Tweeter, has been since day one of joining the Exiles and he's no stranger to friction on the Social Networking site.
He spent many an evening last season defending himself from abuse from Luton Town supporters (his former club) and many County fans gleefully joined in by defending O'Connor to the hilt.
No doubt, some of those same fans are now the ones most vociferously criticising the player for what he wrote last week. It's a mad world on Twitter.
O'Connor, in summary, bemoaned injured Newport players being asked to train for eight hours, used a hashtag of #Shambles and subsequently defended himself by further criticising the treatment methods deployed by the Exiles.
The club responded by making a statement on their website promising an investigation, but that's just football jargon for 'we will handle it internally and hopefully it'll go away and you'll forget about it.'
Boss Edinburgh dealt with the issue swiftly and impeccably, saying the right things to the media and then calling O'Connor in for a meeting with himself and Tim Harris.
One can only presume the riot act was read with the club also, we understand, fining the player.
Which leads us to the point where the facts are established and opinions will wildly differ. Mine is, simply, that it's job done and that's the matter closed. I appreciate many of you strongly disagree.
I've been contacted on Twitter and read online that some fans think O'Connor should be sacked "I'd be sacked for gross misconduct if I did that in my job," they cry, or at the very least, not picked again until he issues a public apology to supporters. Others, living somewhere in the 1920s, believe players should be banned from social media sites as part of the terms of their contracts.
I don't agree with any of those sentiments.
The calls for him to be sacked, are, frankly, ludicrously naive. Comparisons to 'jobs in the real world' also don't carry any weight. Being a footballer isn't like your job or my job. Have you ever gone to work and had a stadium full of people swearing at you? If you have a good day in the office, does it make the back page of the newspapers and the TV news? If you move to a firm up the road, will people burn effigies of you and call you Judas forever more?
Imagine if County did sack O'Connor and he signed for a rival club, say Rochdale. So the Exiles pay O'Connor while he's a long-term injury victim, sack him and then watch him help a club directly competing for promotion, who were able to sign him without a transfer fee. It's a total nonsense.
O'Connor scored 20 goals for the Exiles last season and is arguably the best striker the club have had since the 1980s. Only Craigs Reid and Hughes can come close to him in the past decade. Signing O'Connor to a new deal in the summer was hailed as a key, key success for the club. And now some want him fired?
I know this also won't be popular, but why does O'Connor owe the supporters an apology? What has he done to them that requires remorse?
I think O'Connor's comments were massive ill-advised and I think he's rightly been punished by the club. It was embarrassing to the directors, to the medical staff - current and from last season - and to the management team of Harris, Edinburgh and Jimmy Dack.
In my view, those people are owed an apology by O'Connor. But unless he criticises County supporters, why would he owe them an apology?
My view, and this goes hand-in-hand with the point about banning players from Twitter, is that O'Connor is actually something of a throwback in terms of how he engages the fans.
Long gone are the days where the players and the fans would travel to games together on the bus and drink together in the pub, but by constantly engaging with fans on social media, O'Connor gives the Amber Army a direct line if you like and I don't doubt hundreds of fans have interacted with him on Twitter in the past 18-months. That's a positive.
Alongside Danny Crow, another prolific Tweeter and polarising figure, O'Connor probably represents the most interesting and challenging player in the squad to interview. He's forthright and eloquent and has really embraced life in Newport and playing for the County.
For the record, I do believe his comments came from genuine frustration at not being able to do what he loves, which is score goals for the Exiles and contribute to the squad.
O'Connor has endured more than one operation, days and weeks away from his teammates desperately rehabilitating the injury and presumably fretting about his future.
That doesn't by any means excuse his thoughtless remarks.
But I believe the club handled the matter well and that is that. As far as I am concerned, the sooner O'Connor is back in the squad and back amongst the goals, the better for everyone.
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