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3 April 2013

Richard Day looks back at the midfielder's career

Mark was born in Thundersley, Essex on March 10, 1963.

As a youngster he played for Aldershot’s district team, the Surrey County team and London Under-15’s before signing apprentice forms with QPR in 1979.

Mark is front row, third from the left, in this QPR youth
team photo
from 1979-80

O’Connor signed professional terms at Loftus Road in June 1980 and made his R’s debut in a West London derby against Chelsea in a Second Division fixture at Loftus Road on Boxing Day 1981.

With first-team opportunities limited he went on loan to Exeter City in October 1983 where he scored one goal in 39 league games. This was obviously enough to impress West Country rivals Bristol Rovers who paid £20,000 for his services in August 1984.

It was while with the Pirates that Mark won his only international honour in March 1985 – appearing as a substitute for the Republic of Ireland Under-21 side in a 3-2 defeat against an England side that included the likes of David Seaman, Tony Adams, Neil Webb, Paul Allen and Tony Cottee at Fratton Park.

In March 1986 Harry Redknapp paid a fee of £25,000 which took him to AFC Bournemouth, and in his first full season with the Cherries they won promotion from Division Three. During his spell at Dean Court, in which he notched 12 goals in 128 games, he was in the team that lost 3-0 against a Manchester United side including the likes of Steve Bruce, Mark Hughes and Brian Robson at Old Trafford.

Mark, nicknamed Des, then joined the Gills for the first time in December 1989 for a fee of £65,000 and made his debut away at former club Exeter shortly afterwards, the following month he scored his first goal in a 3-1 win against Doncaster Rovers.

In his first spell the winger made 142 appearances at a time when the club was at one of its lowest ebb’s but then in the summer of 1993 he rejoined the Cherries.

Tony Pulis brought him back to Gillingham in July 1995 but just four months later a horror challenge in a game against Fulham here at Priestfield left the midfielder with leg broken in two places which effectively ended his career.

He had managed to score 10 goals in a total of 191 appearances in his two spells with the Gills before being forced to retire early in the 1997-98 season and he started coaching the youngsters here and did some scouting for the club.

Overall, throughout his career, O’Connor scored 41 times in 555 games.

There was a testimonial game for him here at Priestfield in April 1998 against Christian Gross’ Tottenham Hotspur side who included the likes of Chris Armstrong, Steffen Iversen and Gary Mabbutt.

It attracted a crowd of 3,033 which raised around £20,000 - Algerian midfielder Moussi Saib scored two and Andy Sinton added the other for Spurs while Leo Fortune-West netted for the Gills who included Peter Taylor and Billy Bonds as guests.

Mark, who played in the closing stages, was quoted at the time saying "You dream of thousands coming and have nightmares it will be just one man and his dog, so I was thrilled."

O’Connor moved into coaching and he has followed Tony Pulis to Bristol City (academy coach), Portsmouth (youth team manager) and Plymouth Argyle (first-team coach) and has been first-team coach at Stoke City since the summer of 2006.

He was of course one of the Gills ‘old boy’ connections when the Potters played here at Priestfield Stadium in the FA Cup Third Round tie back in January 2012, Lindsay Parsons and David Kemp joining Pulis and O’Connor for their 3-1 victory.

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