Conor McCloskey, who suffered a torn hamstring in Glenavon’s final Premiership fixture of 2022-23, is battling his way back to full fitness. The Belfast-based financial adviser made his return to first-team action against Banbridge Rangers in mid-July 2023. Now he is hoping for an injury-free season.
“I have had a few knocks in recent years, so I reckon that I am due a spell out of the physio’s room,” he said. “Injuries are probably the most frustrating aspect of a footballer’s life.”
The 31-year-old, who joined Glenavon from Ballymena United in the summer of 2018, is about to start his sixth campaign at Mourneview Park. “I have enjoyed my time here,” he added. “There is a good atmosphere in the dressing room and around the place generally. The club is striving hard to be as competitive as possible in a very tough environment. Recently we have been consistent in the League but have not done very well in the cup competitions. Hopefully, we can do a bit better this season.”
Conor started his career with Rosario Y.C. in South Belfast. In 2008 he joined Colchester United and made his senior debut on his seventeenth birthday. After three and half seasons with the Essex club, he had a short spell with Braintree Town and then returned to Northern Ireland. He played for Portadown and Carrick Rangers before joining Ballymena United.
McCloskey found it difficult to make the adjustment from full time to part time. “It was tough,” he recalled. “Everything at Colchester was done very professionally. The Irish League, when I came back from England, was not what I had been used to. I was young then too. It took me a long period to settle.”
Conor celebrates scoring the equaliser against Linfield at Mourneview Park in January 2023
In February 2017 McCloskey won a League Cup winners’ medal with Ballymena. He scored United’s second goal in the 2-0 success against Carrick. “It was a big result because the club had not won a trophy for a long time and everyone expected us to win,” he recalled. “But being the favourite doesn’t guarantee anything.”
Conor has played under some top Irish League managers, including Ronnie McFall, David Jeffrey and, of course, Gary Hamilton. “I would describe them as ‘old school’ in their approach,” he continues. “When I say that I mean that they generally set up their teams to play 4-4-2 and try to move the ball quickly from back to front. They don’t particularly go for funky formations or passing the ball across the back. Some purists might question their approach but all three have won trophies, lots of them in fact, so it is hard to be critical.”
At 31, McCloskey realises that he is approaching his twilight years. When he finishes playing – and he is in no hurry to hang up his boots – he would like to stay in the game, perhaps in a coaching or management capacity. “I have completed my UEFA “B” Licence Certificate,” he explained. “I aim to do other courses but that will have to wait. It is hard enough to hold down a busy job and play professionally without taking on other commitments.”
During his five seasons with Glenavon, Conor has scored some fabulous – and important – goals. “There have been a few good ones,” he continued. “I recall a real screamer against Linfield at Windsor Park. I also remember good ones versus Crusaders both home and away. There was another long-range effort in a big win for us at Dungannon. I am not afraid to have a go from distance. They don’t always find the net but when they do, they stick in the memory.”
Although often deployed in a wide role, McCloskey’s preference is to play behind a central striker or strikers. “That’s when I feel I can be most effective,” he added. “I like to roam across the frontline. But, like any player, I want to play so I am never disappointed whatever job Gary asks me to do.”
The Belfast man was at his most consistent during the 2020-21 Covid season. He produced a series of outstanding performances and was a strong contender for the club’s “Player of the Season” award. However, he damaged a hamstring in early March 2021 and missed the rest of the campaign. Supporters who followed the team’s progress via live streams will particularly recall his brilliant last minute winner against Crusaders at Seaview. “It was disappointing to miss a lot of games at the end of that season,” he said. “We pushed the Crues all the way in the battle to finish in the top six and, in the end, only missed out by a couple of points.”
Last term, before his latest injury, he suffered a bad calf muscle strain during the warm-up for Glenavon’s first Premiership fixture at Stangmore Park. “It happened innocuously,” he recalled. “But it kept me out for several months. I am not a patient person and hate watching when I could be playing. I thought I had put all that frustration behind me but then did my hamstring against Portadown and missed the European Play-off semi-final.”
With the 2023-24 season about to commence, Conor is under no illusions about the size of the challenge facing Glenavon. “We want to break into the top six,” he adds. “That has been our ambition since the top three or four clubs went full-time. We’ll do everything we can to achieve that aim. But, once again, it will be difficult. There is no point in saying otherwise. I think everyone knows how competitive this league has become.”
Conor in action against Linfield at the National Stadium, Windsor Park
|Carrick Rangers (2012-16)
|Ballymena United (2016-18)
Conor pictured at the National Stadium, Windsor Park.