Sunday Story: Connor O’Toole

by Jeremy Walker

From fashioning ‘business deals’ with Redders to managing the pre-match tunes in the changing rooms, fullback Connor O’Toole is loving life at Sydney FC.

The Sydney-born defender is pleased he made the move back to his hometown in July 2021, feeling more comfortable and stress-free in familiar surroundings.

It’s allowed me to relax and be less stressed outside of football

Connor O’Toole on just over a year in Sydney

Appreciating the opportunity to play for the Sky Blues in the city he grew up in, the former Brisbane Roar and Newcastle left-back has a more focused mindset ahead of the new Isuzu UTE A-League season.

“I’ve really enjoyed being here, being back in Sydney was a massive plus for me,” said O’Toole.

“It’s allowed me to relax and be less-stressed outside of football, so when it comes to the football side of things I can enjoy it more and not worry about what’s going on outside the pitch.”

With a determined mindset on the pitch, O’Toole enjoys his woodwork craftsmanship to take his mind off the game – creating custom-built furniture in his spare time.

And the fullback’s artistry has not gone unnoticed, claiming the attention of Sky Blues and Socceroos goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne.

O’Toole’s handcrafted coffee table – His proudest piece

“I do a fair bit of woodworking on the side … I get involved in making a fair bit of tables and TV units and that sort of stuff,” the 25-year-old added.

“Redders has just commissioned a piece from me, a custom sized engrained cutting board made out of some Australian timber, so I’ve got that down the pipeline.

“It was a three-way deal between me, Donchs [James Donachie] and Redders because Donchs wanted a pair of shoes off Redders, so I got money off Donchs, Donchs got a pair of shoes and Redders is getting the cutting board!”

Aside from the handywork, O’Toole enjoys listening to music and is entrusted with creating the pre-match playlist to pump-up the Sky Blues in the changing rooms before kick-off.

O’Toole’s first A-League goal

“I’m on it [music] a fair bit and I think I’m still in that in-between age of young and old, so I sort of have an idea of what each side likes,” O’Toole said.

“The pre-match routine has hip-hop, Jay-Z, 50 Cent, a bit of J Cole, a bit of Kendrick, the kind of stuff that’s really upbeat.

“Older classic bands that I like are Pink Floyd and Dire Straits, that sort of era. More modern stuff like Mac Miller was a massive one for me, he was big through my high school and I sort of grew up listening to him. There’s also a guy called Paolo Nutini, a Scottish singer, and as for Aussie bands I like Sticky Fingers.”

Growing up in southeast Sydney near Botany, O’Toole supports the South Sydney Rabbitohs and frequently travelled with his family to watch the rugby league outfit.

O’Toole in action during the FFA Cup for Sydney FC

The O’Toole family were one of the first members of the Burrow, the Rabbitohs supporters club – but football remained the number one priority for a young Connor.

“Growing up, rugby league was mainly what was going around the town,” said O’Toole.

“Playing football I was sort of an outsider a bit. I always enjoyed playing football more, but I still like the rugby.

“We were one of those crazy supporter families that go to the games all the time … driving around Sydney, Penrith, Canberra, Wollongong.”

Accustomed to travel from a young age, O’Toole moved to Japan to attend Seiritsu Gakuen High School – training amongst their “cut-throat” footballing environment.

O’Toole in training with the Sky Blues

The defender, who has Irish and Japanese background, learned from gaining exposure to a new culture and language whilst developing “technical” football skills at his Tokyo-based school.

‘There was no moment to rest’ – O’Toole on youth football environment in Japan

“The players were just incredible … the intensity they played at and the whole sort of mentality where it was just football, football, football,” the left-back added.

“The dormitory was on the ground so you sort of live and breathe football … it was very cut-throat because there were so many kids that were so good and available to take your position.

“You were constantly getting exposed to different coaches, different teams that you could get opportunities with so there was no moment to rest.”

Impressed by O’Toole’s progression in Tokyo, then Australia U20’s national coach, Paul Okon, called-up the fullback to train within the national youth setup.

O’Toole in action for the Australian U23s

O’Toole went on to win the U19’s AFF Championship in Vietnam and also make the U23’s Olyroos squad for the AFC U23 Championships – finishing third at the tournament to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“Playing for Australia was just a really surreal experience,” O’Toole said. “It was a proud moment, you know it’s still a youth Australia team but you still feel like you’re representing the country and obviously we won that AFF tournament and I was involved in a lot of lead-up to the Olympics which was massive.”

Shortly after returning to Australia from his schooling in Japan, O’Toole signed for the Brisbane Roar in 2016 – gaining a sense of professionalism from his time under John Aloisi.

Connor playing at Kogarah

The defender then moved to the Newcastle Jets in 2020 where he received more game time, joining the Sky Blues the year after – earning 71 A-League appearances across his three clubs.

Now a Sky Blue for over a year, O’Toole is fully focused on completing a strong pre-season with the new Isuzu UTE A-League campaign just four weeks away.

“This is where we ramp things up physically and drill everything we want to do tactically into us … it’s full steam ahead,” the defender said.

“We’ve got the new system, the new formation and I think the most important thing with that is just getting used to the new movements and new signings, seeing what they like to do and how they play.

“[Last year] I think it could’ve been a better year for everyone, but with this year coming up, we’ve got the new stadium and new training ground coming up so it’s positive thoughts for everyone.”