IF you ask every young lad growing up in West Belfast what they aspire to be when they grow up, the chances are that ‘professional footballer’ is at the top of their list.
For almost everyone, the imaginary wonder goals that your younger self would score playing against the neighbour’s fence amounts to just that – a dream. But for 16-year-old Conor McVeigh that is simply not the case.
Last weekend Conor took his first steps into the world of the professional game and signed on the dotted line to become Blackpool FC’s newest addition to their famous academy in England.
The young star has worked his way through the footballing ranks, but also had a promising juvenile career in the Gaelic games as a young player with St Galls GAC as a prominent scoring-forward during his time in blue.
And from the age of a toddler, Conor was destined for success as he started his football career at St Oliver Plunkett and was one of only a select few to make the Northern Ireland youth squads without playing for an Irish Premiership side.
In recent years his experience across the multiple sporting fronts has led to a sensational rise to stardom.
Conor’s father, Conor McVeigh Sr, spoke to the Andersonstown News about how his son found the pathway to the pro-game.
“Conor started playing football when he was five at St Oliver Plunkett until he was around 11 and that is when he broke into the NI development squad. When he was there, all the Irish league teams had scouts watching and the best offer we felt was Linfield.”
Conor spent several years at the Windsor Park side before he was old enough to join the JD academy for elite performers alongside St Galls team-mate Cormac Austin. The pair developed a bond at the academy just before Cormac’s move to Crystal Palace last summer.
During his stint at the Academy though Conor garnered some phenomenal experience travelling to mainland Europe in competitions and in one stand-out game where he was awarded man-of-the-match in a game against English giants Chelsea.
The young Belfast teenager found himself being invited to trials across England before choosing Blackpool and his dad Conor Sr believes it was a hard choice but certainly the perfect place for his son to develop.
“He wasn’t a fan of London when we were there for the West Ham trial, there was just something about the place which didn’t appeal to him, the academy was top notch at West Ham, the quality was sensational in London – kids from every walk of life and no doubt he would’ve thrived, but it just didn’t suit him.”
“He then went to Ipswich, and it was really good but sort of the opposite of London where it was a bit too laid back, but when he caught a glimpse of Blackpool he fell in love straight away, but he had to work hard to get the offer.”

Conor McVeigh alongside his parents Conor and Trisha as he pens a three-year deal at Blackpool

Conor McVeigh alongside his parents Conor and Trisha as he pens a three-year deal at Blackpool

Conor played three games in the full-back position at Blackpool and got man-of-the-match in different trial games. But his father believes what attracted him most to Blackpool was the freedom he was afforded during his time.
“For me I think it was the fact that there was a bit more freedom and that they took him to all the attractions within the town and city. We flew him over to play against Bolton Wanderers at 6am and the kick-off was at 11am. He played well again and got a phone-call saying he is everything that they were looking for and wanted to bring him over to sign the contract which was just amazing news.”
The family travelled to the seaside town on Good Friday this year, where Conor was offered the two year scholarship with Blackpool’s Academy with a further one year deal pro extension deal – which includes completing his sixth form education whilst in the academy ranks.
Conor McVeigh Sr commented on how proud he is of his son’s achievements so far, but believes he has what it takes as long as he keeps his nose down and works to fulfil his potential.
“It truly is an amazing opportunity for him, last week he completed his first week of pre-season and said it was really tough with eight-mile beach runs and hard fitness tests, it’s like joining the army.
“As parents we are extremely proud, but as long as he puts his nose down and gives it his all, that’s all we ask from him.”