Seamus O’Connor, a soccer coach in Atlantic County and other places for more than a decade, will now lead the Temple University women’s team to a new era.

O’Connor became the fifth coach in the 23-year history of Temple women’s soccer in June. He replaces Matt Gwilliam, who resigned to take an assistant coaching position with Colorado College. O’Connor was an assistant for two years for the Owls.

“It’s very, very exciting to be Temple’s coach,” said O’Connor, a 38-year-old Blackwood resident. “It’s been a long journey. I’m very proud to be a coach from the Atlantic County area in Division I.”

Temple moves this fall to the American Athletic Conference, a new league that’s an offshoot of the Big East, featuring teams from the East to Midwest.

“The American Athletic Conference is a huge step up,” O’Connor said. “There are some really top teams. We’ve done some good recruiting, so hopefully we’ll be right there competing.”

O’Connor is a U-16 coach for Jersey Premier Soccer, which practices at Richard Stockton College.

He is also a longtime coaching partner with Egg Harbor Township’s Matt Driver, the president of Atlantic Soccer Factory. O’Connor works with Driver’s Elite Player Evolution Program (called EXP2), which helps serious youth players reach their full potential.

“It’s good that I live in Blackwood, because it’s about the same distance to Temple one way, and to Matt Driver’s office in Egg Harbor Township the other way,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor is the head coach of the Philadelphia Fever women’s soccer team, which has college players. Driver coaches the Philadelphia Fury, a men’s team and the Fever’s affiliate. Both are based in Pitman.

Originally from Galway, Ireland, O’Connor played soccer for Athlone Institute of Technology in his native country. He came to the USA in the late 1990s and hooked up with Driver, coaching youth soccer. They had the same philosophy, focusing on player development, rather than just getting wins.

“Seamus is one of the few coaches who puts the player first,” Driver said. “He develops what the player gets out of the game, rather than the game out of the player. As the head coach of the Fever, Seamus had 50 players try out, and he retained 35. College coaches call up, sending their players to him. He helps them get better.”

O’Connor gave credit to Pat Madamba and Ron DiGiovanni for helping his career. Pat Madamba, of JPS, is the former head of the Hamilton Township Soccer Club. DiGiovanni is the former head of the Upper Township Soccer Club.

Kevin Semet, a soccer referee and the former Atlantic City High School boys soccer coach, has officiated many of O’Connor’s games.

“He was always a class coach on the sidelines who showed great knowledge of the game and respect for everyone involved,” Semet said.

Before coming to Temple, O’Connor was the men’s and women’s coach at Chestnut Hill College (Pa.), a Division II school.

This fall’s Temple team will have 5-foot-1 freshman midfielder Jill DiBlasi, The Press Girls Soccer Player of the Year from Hammonton High School last fall. DiBlasi led the Blue Devils to the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference title.

“We really have high hopes for Jill in the next few years,” O’Connor said. “I know her club coach and I read The Press and found out who she was. It was nice to get her on our team.”

Temple, a member of the Atlantic 10 last fall, was 5-12-3 and scored only 10 goals, but gave up just 22 (1.10 goals per game).

“We were very young last year, with eight freshmen,” O’Connor said. “We’ll have a couple of juniors and seniors. Last year’s freshmen gained a lot of experience, and we’ve added some quality freshmen.”

This fall, the American Athletic Conference opponents are Houston, Southern Methodist, South Florida, Central Florida, Connecticut, Louisville, Cincinnati, Rutgers and Memphis. The new league will have changes in 2014-2015 as Rutgers and Louisville leave, and Tulane, Tulsa and East Carolina join.

Contact Guy Gargan:

609-272-7210

Started at The Press in 1993 as an Ocean County reporter. Moved to the copy desk in 1994 until taking over as editor of At The Shore in 1995. Became deputy sports editor in 2004 and was promoted to sports editor in 2007.