AFTER being accustomed to the training facilities at Carrington and Lennoxtown, Lee O'Connor is in for a bout of culture shock when he takes to the field at Arbroath's Gayfield Park this afternoon.

It's a long way from the world-class training grounds that accompany playing for Manchester United and Celtic, but the Irish right-back insists there is nowhere else he would rather be.

O'Connor, who sealed a loan move to Partick Thistle until the end of the season earlier this week, is yet to make his debut in men's football but is likely to do just that for the Jags this afternoon. And according to him, it has been a long time coming.

“It’s something that I was really looking forward to doing and I’m happy that [the move] is over the line, and now I’m looking forward to Saturday," O'Connor said. “I think everyone at [Celtic] knows it’s important that I play football. I’ve played a lot of reserve football so it’s time for me to show what I can do in men’s football.”

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Curiously, while O'Connor has not played a single minute of senior football at club level, the 19-year-old was capped by Ireland in a 3-1 friendly win over New Zealand last November - something he says has given him a tantalising taste of what his future as a professional footballer will be.

“Obviously I’ve played for Ireland but that’s my only experience of [men's football]. It was an unbelievable day for me, my family and everyone that’s ever looked after me. It was the best day of my life by far.

"You just want more of it. When you go back down to reserve games it’s quite difficult.

"You play in a massive stadium in front of a massive crowd, then you go back to playing at a training ground with 50 people watching, it is difficult. But I’m excited to be here now.”

The contrast between Thistle and Manchester United could hardly be starker. Occasional training sessions with world class players gave O'Connor an excellent grounding - and education - in the sport, and O'Connor says there was one player who left a particularly indelible mark on him.

“I was around [the first team] a couple of times," he said. "Obviously, they trust their academy a lot so you’ll be training with them sometimes and you’re around the first team every day so you see what good pros they are. You see everything they’re doing and you learn a lot.

“They’re all world class players but for me, the person that stood out in training was Juan Mata. He was fantastic. He was a model pro every day and he has really stuck in my mind. I couldn’t get near him!"

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O'Connor hopes to take his first tentative steps into men's club football this afternoon in Arbroath - “I’m definitely ready, it’s up to the gaffer and how he feels but I’m more than ready" - and says that he rejected offers from south of the border to complete a move to Glasgow's west end, with Celtic preferring a loan spell closer to home.

“They think it’s good for me," he added. "Obviously, it’s only down the road but the most important thing for me now is just to get playing.

“There was a few options [from England] but we came to the conclusion that this is the best place for me.”

Another of Thistle January signings, Jamie Barjonas, will be hoping to make his debut for the Jags this afternoon. The on-loan Rangers midfielder believes that Thistle are the perfect club for him to showcase his talents and get some much-needed time out on the pitch.

“It’s the right time to get out looking for playing time," he insisted. "The last six months have been really good for my development and I have made the step up to the first team, training with the likes of Steven Davis and Ryan Jack every day is really good for my development.

“But I had a chat with the gaffer and we agreed it was time to go out and get some games.

“It’s a good squad we have got. Hopefully I can push the midfielders here to be better players and they can push me too.

“We are all in it together and want to achieve stuff this season.”