A weird time, but O'Riley had control of his own career
No nerves during his time without a club, but it went on longer than he expected
The signing of Matt O'Riley came as a bit of a surprise for MK Dons, despite having trained with the squad for nearly six months.
The 20-year-old turned down a lucrative deal to stay at Fulham to instead to be in control of his own career. Turning to MK Dons to keep up his fitness, a move to Belgium also was touted for the youngster, only for him to return to Dons and battle for a deal at Stadium MK.
With nearly 1,000 players released from clubs as Covid-19 tore up club's finances last summer, O'Riley admitted he was out of the game for longer than he anticipated when he walked away from Craven Cottage, but felt his decision to wait has paid off.
"It was a weird time before I came here because I was out of football for six months and I never thought that would be the case," he said.
"I wasn’t nervous as Fulham did offer me a good contract, I didn’t get released I turned down a good contract because I didn’t think the pathway was right for me.
"I’ve been honest, I came here to train and keep my fitness up. I ended up going to train with a team in Belgium with a view to sign out there, they were very interested, I came back here and spoke with the staff and at the time I wasn’t sure. I trained again for another month and I knew just how much I enjoyed being here. That swayed me to sign here as I felt really happy here.
"I wasn’t ever nervous and it felt like a breath of fresh air – not in a disrespectful way – but I was in control of my career – that was a good feeling to have."
Thrown straight into the starting line-up at the first opportunity, O'Riley has started every game since. Improving game-on-game, he admitted his first game back - the 1-0 defeat at home to Charlton - felt unnatural after 10 months since his last competitive outing, but said he is happy with how he is playing.
He continued: "When I played that first game it didn’t feel as natural as I thought it would to be honest, it was like 10 months between my games. I didn’t feel my best to be honest but I coped okay which was pleasing. It told me the months in training had helped.
"Since that first game I think I’ve been pretty good apart from Shrewsbury. I feel sharp, I feel I’m getting fitter with every game and I’m really happy with how I’ve performed. From a team perspective, we’ve won a lot of games and that’s positive. Hopefully, we can build upon that."