A-League Off-Season: O’Toole’s journey to the Roar


In the days following Adelaide United’s A-League grand final triumph Football Federation Australia inked a deal with the J-League to ensure closer ties between the Japanese top flight and the domestic game in Australia. The three primary aspects trumpeted in the Memorandum of Understanding focused on sharing of technical, marketing and administrative expertise to the benefit of both domestic competitions however player development links between the two nations were further enhanced when Australian Under 19 international Connor O’Toole inked a two-year first-team deal with the Brisbane Roar.

Somewhat lost in the maelstrom of player movements post the decider which included Romeo Castelen leaving the Wanderers and Adelaide attacker Bruce Kamau joining Melbourne City, O’Toole’s senior recruitment will add some dynamism and youth to the Roar’s squad who also added central defender Kye Rowles, 17, and Joeys captain Joe Caletti to their senior team in the last five months.

O’Toole is the latest Australian footballer to have spent time at the renowned Seiritsu Gakuen High School in Japan to then go on and gain a first team deal with a professional club. Notably the Tokyo-based school had Socceroo Jason Davidson as a student from 2005. The defender who spent time for three academic years at Seiritsu Gakuen was spotted by Australia Under 20 and Olyroos coach Paul Okon before joining in on Australian youth team camps. It has been a rare pathway to professional football for O’Toole who has played with the Roar’s NPL Queensland side in the last month as well as training with the first team.

O’Toole represents the common dynamic of much of the Australian population (43% according to the last Census) who have at least one parent born overseas. O’Toole has a Japanese-born mother and Irish-born father. So, like Davidson – whose paternal grandmother is Japanese, O’Toole’s links with the country made the move to Tokyo logical. With Seiritsu Gakuen best described as having specialisations similar to Westfields Sports High based in the Sydney suburb of Fairfield West and similar institutions nation-wide it would seem O’Toole has found an interesting career pathway which has already proven successful for Australian football.

O’Toole graduated in March from the school which also hosted future All White Michael Fitzgerald from 2005, the same period Davidson attended. The students at the school regularly train five times a week whilst playing games on a Saturday and Sunday is not uncommon.

A 2015 feature in Leopold Method by Scott McIntyre noted the importance high school programs still have to Japanese player development pointing to the cases of Shunsuke Nakamura and Keisuke Honda. The duo were left on the scrapheap of J-League youth clubs only to be picked up via the high school system before going on to star for Celtic and AC Milan respectively.

During O’Toole’s time at Seiritsu Gakuen he has had some company from an Australian point of view with Jeremy Carpenter, brother of Matildas player Ellie, also attending the school.

Given the recent deal between the A-League and J-League perhaps O’Toole could prove the success of Davidson was not an outlier and other players may follow the path in the future.

O’Toole has an excellent role model in Davidson, who has played in a World Cup, and O’Toole could easily be challenging the former West Brom player for the first choice role on the left for Ange Postecoglou’s team in years to come should his career trajectory continue upward.

First up, aside from his focus at the Roar, 18 year-old O’Toole will be hoping to seal selection for October’s U19 Asian Football Confederation Championship in Bahrain. The event acts as the qualifying tournament for the Under 20 World Cup to be held in South Korea next year. Australia will be looking to first qualify out of their group in Bahrain (which contains China, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan) before ensuring qualification for the world event – something Australia failed to do last time around. The 2015 edition in New Zealand which was won by Serbia went by without Australia taking part.

O’Toole logged a starting and substitute appearance in the qualifying tournament in Laos in October last year, featuring in wins over the Philippines and the host nation, so will be a good chance to feature prominently in Bahrain. However he will have strong competition from former Sydney FC player Alex Gersbach. Now with Norwegian Tippeligaen side Rosenborg Gersbach, 19, left the Sky Blues showing signs of promise during his 18 months with the A-League side but now that O’Toole will have local prominence this may tip the balance in the favour of O’Toole should he get consistent game time. However Ange Postecoglou naming Gersbach in an up-coming Socceroo squad shows just how much competition there is for places in the national team.

Australia’s one defeat in the pool phase in Laos was against Japan who will be a strong chance in the main AFC event.

In addition to the established Davidson, O’Toole and Gersbach will be keeping an eye on Craig Goodwin. After an exceptional title-winning season with the Reds the Adelaide-born flanker has secured a move to Sparta Rotterdam in the Dutch Eredivise. It’s also worth noting with the retirement of Brisbane’s Shane Steffanuto, and the Roar’s push to recruit highly-credentialed youth players, a smooth path to the first team for O’Toole seems assured in the Sunshine State.

Without an official agreement in place Japanese player development could provide the Socceroos with their left back/winger for the next decade but first O’Toole and his teammates might have to stop them again in Bahrain.

In O’Toole’s A-League focus the redemption of John Aloisi as an A-League coach in guiding his side to within touching distance of another grand final appearance will help shape Brisbane again this season. Given Aloisi has experience coaching youth players in Melbourne, both with the Heart and Victory National Youth League teams, it seems O’Toole has landed in the right environment to be guided by a coach who has the core of a relatively successful senior team around him, has experience coaching youth players and whose side could feature in the Asian Champions League group stage in 2017.

Signing a deal between two footballing bodies could prove important down the track for football in Australia but enterprising parents signing up their children for overseas opportunity is already bearing fruit for Australian in Japan.

This profile first appeared on From the sideline of sport

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About Hamish Neal

Born in Lower Hutt New Zealand Hamish is forever wedded to all things All Black, All Whites, Tall Blacks and more. Writing more nowadays in his 'spare time' (what is that anyway?) but still with a passion for broadcasting. Has worked in various sports development roles in England, Northern Ireland and Australia.

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