It was a Sunday afternoon in 2005, and the respective teams of UCD and UCC were trudging off the field at Trinity College following an unusually one-sided Harding Cup Final. For UCD, the game was the culmination of what was a relatively comfortable tournament. Having survived a quarter-final scare against Queen’s to win 3-2, a comprehensive 5-0 victory over Ulster University followed in the semis before the aforementioned UCC clash, which yielded a 6-0 victory. Goals from Paul Byrne, Brian Shorthall and Kieran Harte aided the Belfield side in claiming their victory on the day, with each of those three going on to have stellar careers domestically in the league of Ireland. The remaining three goals, came courtesy of one man, who incidentally had scored in each of the previous rounds of the competition. For Conor Sammon, this game was to be merely a side note in a career which has taken him far beyond the reaches of Irish inter-varsity football. Fast forward ten years, ten clubs, 413 appearances and 78 goals later, and it’s safe to say that Sammon couldn’t have predicted the trajectory his career would take following that fateful day at College Sports Ground. Admittedly, Sammon’s career has been far from glamourous. Kilmarnock, Wigan, Rotherham and Ipswich are hardly places you would see on a typical traveller’s bucket-list. Nonetheless, Sammon has enjoyed moments that us mere mortals can barely dream of.
In the years following that initial Harding Cup win, Sammon remained with The Students for another two years, recording a modest tally of 13 goals from 69 appearances which was enough to earn him a move up north to ply his with Derry City. The impression Sammon left at Derry was striking, winning a League Cup winner’s medal in addition to writing his name in the history books as the scorer of The Candystripe’s 1000th league of Ireland goal. His respectable tally of 7 goals from 20 appearances only paints a small picture of his overall contribution, with his physical presence and aerial threat a constant threat for League of Ireland defences. Alas, just as some fella named James McClean was breaking into the first-team fold at The Brandywell, it was time for The Sammon of College to finally take his inaugural leap across the pond, with keen suitors found in the form of Scottish Premier League side Kilmarnock.
At 22, Conor’s breakthrough move to the U.K. was late coming, and it would be fair to say he didn’t take to Scottish football like a fish to water. His first two seasons with The Killies yielded just two league goals overall, an underwhelming return from 42 league appearances. Nonetheless, he kept his place in the side, and the eventual arrival of Finnish coach Mixu Paatelainen at Rugby Park served as a catalyst for a massive upturn in Sammon’s fortunes. 15 goals in the first half of the 2010-11 season being enough to attract interest from down south in the form of Wigan Athletic, and suddenly the dizzying heights of the Premier League beckoned for the man from Malahide. For the following two seasons, Sammon was a first-team regular in what was a very decent Wigan Athletic side (how times have changed). However, adjusting to the Premier League proved to be an insurmountable task, and with just 1 goal over the course of two seasons with the Latics, The Sammon was on the move once again, this time dropping a division to lead the line for Nigel Clough at Derby County.
For Conor Sammon, his two seasons at Derby County have surely proved to be the defining spell of his career thus far, although not solely for his performances in white. While his 84 appearances for The Rams saw them flirt with promotion via the play-offs followed by a subsequent 8th place finish, it was his performances in a green jersey which proved to be far more noteworthy. Having been overlooked for senior national team honours previously, it was Italian legend Giovanni Trappatoni who finally brought Sammon into the international fold, with all of his 9 caps having been earned under the Italian’s tutelage. Making his debut in a 2-0 victory over Poland, Sammon went on to play a major role in the ultimately unsuccessful 2014 World Cup Qualification campaign, his finest hour being his performance in the 2-2 draw with Austria, where his physical presence proved a nuisance for the Austrian backline. While Sammon’s short-lived international career did not yield any goals, he proved a trusted member of what was a characteristically dogged Trappatoni side, and was regularly singled out for praise by the manager, who even courted criticism from Derby County manager Clough for suggesting that Sammon ought to be playing for a Premier League club.
Sadly, the previous paragraph speaks solely in the past tense, and it has been four years since the once darling of Belfield has played internationally. At club level, his career has subsequently meandered between the second and third tiers of English football with Ipswich, Rotherham and Sheffield United respectively, before a move back north to Scotland, where Sammon has struggled for regular playing time at Hearts. Still contracted to the Edinburgh side, Sammon is currently on loan at Partick Thistle, who find themselves struggling at the wrong end of The Scottish Premier League table. Considering the heights Sammon reached not so long ago, it would be fair to say that his career thus far has followed something of a bell-shaped curve in terms of success. That said, at just 30 years-old, time is still on Conor’s side to make a comeback both internationally and at club level.
All things considered, we here at UCD salute Conor Sammon for being such an important ambassador for UCD AFC overseas. Who knows, maybe a return to Belfield would make a poetic end to what has been a rollercoaster ride for The Sammon of College. He would be welcomed back at Belfield with open arms.
Chris Foley – Sports Editor