The Monday Profile: John-Joe O'Toole
Cast your mind back to the 2008-9 season and you’ll remember one of that campaign’s most precocious Championship talents. John-Joe O’Toole, an Irishman by way of Harrow – the borough, not the school – netted seven goals from 22 games – a fine return from midfield, especially for a 20 year old. Indeed, two years earlier, he had delighted Athlone’s Lissywoolen Stadium with a ninety third minute winner as the Republic beat Bulgaria at Under-21 level. This was a midfielder to watch.
Reading extracts from esteemed Watford blog BHaPPY from those years reveals the emergence of a burgeoning capability. Likened to Tim Cahill in his ability to burst into the penalty box, the mop topped midfielder seemed ideally suited to Aidy Boothroyd’s little nonsense style. I saw him in that fateful game against Reading in September 2008, his trademark surge and goal overshadowed by Stuart Attwell’s negligence. If at the time, Watford fans suspected he brought goals and little else, he was still young and still energetic; even if that energy was, according to Matt Rowson, often “randomly distributed”.
So it was a surprise to see him out of the team in January 2009 before temporarily moving on to Sheffield United. The Blades were chasing promotion at the time and O’Toole performed admirably in the run-in; his manager another proponent of the lofted ball of course – it was an upwardly mobile move, but he missed the denouement, a 1-0 loss to Burnley at Wembley.
Back at Watford, he had missed the cultural shift instigated by Brendan Rodgers and if that individual had since departed acrimoniously for Reading, the kid still found himself out of favour. Still, the next move was a surprising one – dropping a division to Colchester, initially on loan and to prosper under his old gaffer; the Essex side over performing in almost reaching the play offs.
But the excursion was to be cruelly interrupted in a match against Charlton – O’Toole damaging his cruciate ligament in the April of 2010. Shorn of a potentially key performer, the U’s have subsequently still enjoyed a good 2010-11 although they have seven points to make up if they are to rise into the play offs from their current position of eighth.
March 1 saw the return of the tousled terrier – “like a member of an Indie band”, Boothroyd once claimed – although hopefully not one akin to a star of the Pigeon Detectives or the Cribs. A cameo appearance as a substitute saw Colchester through to a 1-0 win at a currently abject Bristol Rovers, a turnaround result after some inconsistent displays from the team of late. On Saturday, the Irishman wasn’t risked as Southampton tyro Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain plundered a first in a comfortable 2-0 win, but he has pronounced himself content to be back – his verve might help John Ward’s side challenge again.