I was a top jockey who made close to £1m and had a bust-up with Joey Barton after a ride – now I’m a non-league manager

A FORMER jockey who made close to £1million with nearly 500 winners switched riding out for the dugout after becoming a football manager.

Mick O’Connell was a promising footballer in his youth and was on the books at Nottingham Forest and Celtic.

AlamyMick O’Connell was successful in the saddle and enjoying his best season when a back injury ended his career – now he’s a non-league football manager[/caption]

But he was too small to make it and a coach at the Scottish giants suggested he try racing.

Mick had never been on a horse but was a natural, quickly becoming a go-to jockey for trainers.

He travelled the world banging in winners – but it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

A bust-up with Joey Barton in Dubai and a threat from gangsters to shoot him all contributed to a truly wild few years in racing.

The relative calm of football and managing non-league Tadcaster Albion must seem a breeze in comparison.

But it might not have come about were it not for a devastating injury Mick suffered in 2013.

That forced him to give up the game mid-way through his best season.

Still, Mick, who is from County Kildare in Ireland, has a load of crazy stories from his day in the saddle.

Recalling one with renowned hot-head Barton, Mick told nonleagueyorkshire.com: “I rode a horse for Joey Barton in Dubai and believe it or not I fell out with him.

“To be fair he was all right, but we were out in the owners’ bar and his racing manager piped up and said something.

“As you do after you’ve had a few beers, I told him how it is.

“I never heard from them again!”

That wasn’t the only time Mick’s former career crept up on him, with the jockey riding horses belonging to Sir Alex Ferguson too.

He added: “Paul Scholes. Michael Owen. They all owned horses when I was riding.

“Fergie is an absolute gentleman and he lives and breathes for horse racing. I’ve also met Harry Redknapp and he’s the same.”

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That can’t be said for everyone, though.

That was especially true the night Mick feared for his life after riding a horse for, in his words, some ‘Newcastle gangsters’.

Mick recalled: “I rode somewhere one day and I had two or three rides – but one of them was 1-4 and couldn’t get beat.

“It was 20lb well in and this trainer who I won’t name said to me, ‘you can’t win today’.

“I said ‘there’s no way he can’t win unless his leg falls off’.

“A mate of mine who is a steward came to me and said ‘be careful on that’.

“You can bet on horses to lose so the owners who were gangsters from Newcastle had put about £100,000 on the horse to lose.

“They would have got millions basically.

“I said to my mate ‘thanks for giving me the heads up’.

“I went out and the horse took off and won.

“I went back in and the trainer was nowhere to be seen. I drove home and the phone goes and it was these Newcastle boys wanting my address so they could shoot me and break my legs!”

Mick fortunately kept both his legs but his days in racing – and the legendary nights out – were soon to end.

He was No 1 rider for John Quinn – of Highfield Princess fame – at the time but smashed his back in a nasty fall and never fully recovered.

Mick started playing non-league in 2015 but always wanted to move into management and soon got a job as boss at Harrogate Railway FC after cutting his teeth with the first team at Darlington.

He resigned in May this year after leading them to the play-off spots two years in a row.

There was no promotion and Mick joined Toolstation Northern Counties Eastern League premier side Tadcaster last May.

They picked up their first win of the season in the weekend just gone – and, presumably, without any gangsters watching on the touchline.

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