O’Riordan’s a Rover!

O’Riordan’s a Rover!

Rovers have continued their January dealings, as they have announced the capture of 20-year-old central defender, Connor O’Riordan, who arrives at Ewood Park for a reported fee of around £500,000, after Gregg Broughton triggered the youngster’s reported release clause at Crewe Alexandra.

The Railwaymen’s academy graduate, who has had three loan spells in his career despite only turning 20 in October, was highly-rated at Gresty Road and has been a mainstay in manager Lee Bell’s team ever since returning from his third and final loan-spell in January 2023, playing in 45 games in all competitions and being a real handful in both boxes, which is clearly what attracted Rovers, Gregg Broughton and Jon Dahl Tomasson to the ambitious centre-half, who signed a four-and-a-half-year deal at Ewood Park.

Born in the commuting hub of Crewe, the young defender emerged from Crewe’s famous academy after catching the eye at youth level, signing a scholarship in 2020 that committed his development to his hometown club, who made it a focus to nurture his talent as the then-League One team geared up for what turned out to be a solid mid-table finish in 2020-21. Whilst O’Riordan did not have an impact on the game, the then-17-year-old continued his development in the Alex’s youth academy, which was recognised by the League Football Education organisation, which is backed by the EFL and the PFA. The defender was voted to receive a place in the starting-eleven in May 2021 as he was recognised for his achievements both, on the pitch and in the classroom.

After a season of playing developing with Crewe’s youth teams, September 2021 saw O’Riodan afforded an opportunity to go out and play ‘men’s’ football in his first career loan-spell, aged 18 as he linked up with Kidsgrove Athletic in Step 8’s Northern Premier League on a month-loan in what was described by the league as ‘work experience’ as O’Riordan took his opportunity with both hands, as he stamped his mark in Non-League, netting one goal in the four games that he played with the Staffordshire-based side. Upon his return to Crewe, the defender was shipped out again a month later, as he joined up with Step 7 side, Nantwich Town, yet he was only given the one appearance to show his stuff within the one month he had in Cheshire.

Upon making his return to Gresty Road, O’Riordan was thrown straight into the deep-end and given his first chance at senior football when he was handed his debut as he started against Doncaster Rovers in an EFL Trophy tie in December 2021, earning a clean-sheet in a 2-0 victory. A month later, the defender again started his second first-team game, again in the EFL Trophy, as he faced Rotherham United in the Round of 16, but they were knocked out in a thrilling 4-2 defeat. Despite still being 18, the defender was set to make his first league start in the third tier as he again faced Rotherham United towards the end of January 2022 and despite defeat, this opportunity gave him a route into the first-team. Whilst Crewe were doing poorly on the pitch as they were rooting around in the relegation zone, before eventually being relegated in 24th on 29 points come the summer of 2022, the youngster went on to play another 10 games in the league, assisting once, despite the Alex’s disappointing season.

With a lot of change afoot at Gresty Road, the 6’4” defender was handed a new deal to protect their asset as, despite being 18-years-old, he penned a new contract until 2025 – which included the release clause that Rovers eventually triggered. Ahead of the 2022-23 campaign, the solid defender was again afforded the chance to play at a high level of football and ditch the youth games, as he linked up with Raith Rovers in the Scottish Championship on a short-term loan, eventually playing 21 games in all competitions for the Scottish Rovers. Upon his return to England, O’Riordan became a mainstay in current gaffer, Lee Bell’s side – who had joined Crewe in December – as their first season back in the fourth tier since 2019-20’s promotion-winning season saw them finish mid-table in 13th as the now-19-year-old racked up 18 appearances and netted three goals, keeping five clean-sheets in the process.

The defender’s good form & place in the team continued into the first-half current campaign, as he again played 27 games in all competitions, as he hit 20-years of age in October, netting 3 in the process as he departed Gresty Road with his hometown club sat in the playoff places.

Despite his fine rise at club level, the towering centre-half is eligible for England, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, with the latter being the nation who have first dibs on the defender having integrated him within their youth ranks. In March 2022, he was given his first runout for the Republic of Ireland’s under-20s as they lost to Ireland Amateurs. Despite defeat, his form at club level saw him get a call at under-21s level as he made his debut and kept a clean-sheet in a 3-0 friendly win over Kuwait before playing twice in their 2025 Euro Qualifying, playing 180 minutes in a win over Latvia and a defeat to Norway.

After sealing Rovers’ third addition of the current window, Gregg Broughton was on-hand to offer his opinion on the move that he had brokered:

“We are delighted to welcome Connor to Blackburn Rovers and I would like congratulate Crewe for the incredible development work they have done over many years.

“Connor will bring an aerial presence in both boxes, a calmness in possession and a desire to do the ugly things needed to be a first-class defender.

“We have had to be patient with this signing, after initially having offers turned down by Crewe in the summer, and we have beaten significant interest from other clubs to conclude the deal.

“Our recruitment team have done a great job in both tracking Connor and then selling the club to him. Connor must also receive great credit for not allowing the speculation to affect him and being resolute that the only club he wanted to move to was Blackburn Rovers.”

Welcome, Connor! ?⚪