A gifted sportsman all his life, O’Connor was a member of his local Gaelic Athletic Association. His promise as an athelete was clear as he won numerous titles in the high jump and long jump. On the international stage, he consistently beat British athletes to take home numerous medals.
On the 27 May 1901, O’Connor broke the world record for the long jump when he made an astounding leap of 24 feet and 9 inches at the grounds of the Royal Dublin Society. He broke his own record on the 5 August in that same year when he jumped 24 feet 11 and 3/4 inches. It would be 20 years before O’Connor was bested, and 89 before it was beaten in Ireland.
O’Connor had put Irish athletes on the world stage. As such, it must have come as a terrible cost to his pride when his qualification for the 1906 Olympics in Athens was overshadowed by a requirment to compete under the British flag, Ireland still being under British rule at the time. Ireland also lacked an Olympic committee and so it was that the British committee came to claim O’Connor, as well as his fellow athletes Con Leahy and John Daly.
O’Connor performed excellently, winning the silver medal in the long jump event. However, when the time came for flags to be raised, O’Connor, outraged at having to stand beneath a Union Jack, climbed a flag pole in the middle of the field, waving a green flag emblazoned with a golden harp and the phrase, ‘Erin Go Bragh’, Ireland Forever. Later in the week, O’Connor also won the gold medal in the hop, skip, and jump event. As these particular games were technically the Intercalated Games, his medals are unfortunately not recognised as being Olympic wins in the official records.
After the 1906 games, O’Connor returned to Ireland and settled in Waterford where he established a practise as a Solicitor. He returned to the Olympics as both a spectator and adjudicator but did not compete again. He is remembered as ‘The King of the Spring’, and is commemorated by a plaque bearing his name on the Wicklow Heritage Trail.