David Connolly: I was no Pompey troublemaker
David Connolly and Andy Awford's paths crossed earlier this month at an FA Uefa Pro Licence coaching course at St George's Park.
Their past relations were not discussed, though.
The duo’s Fratton Park stand-off remains.
Connolly, however, insists he does not hold a grudge towards his former Blues boss.
But the talented-yet-devisive striker has now lifted the lid on his painful Pompey exclusion.
Interviewed for the vacant managerial position following Guy Whittingham’s November 2013 dismissal, Connolly had hoped to make the step up from player-coach to Blues boss.
Instead he lost out on both positions, with newly-appointed Richie Barker stripping the prolific forward of his prized coaching role and refusing to name him in his team.
Ostracised under Barker’s management, Connolly – who himself felt a victim of a flawed interview process – was forced to go on loan to League Two rivals Oxford as Pompey faltered.
Awford’s appointment later in the season gave hope of a return to playing action, at least.
But rather than recall the club’s leading striker from the cold, the new boss upheld his predecessor’s stance, amid rumours of Connolly’s disruptive influence around the club.
The ex-Republic of Ireland international refutes suggestions he was a Fratton Park troublemaker, though, with the continued snub hard to take.
He said: ‘There was a coaching team in place at Pompey under Guy but I really appreciated the opportunity to help out with bits and bobs alongside playing.
‘I was an A Licence coach and had all of my qualifications but that was near the end of his reign and didn’t last as long as I had hoped.
‘Unfortunately, Guy lost his job.
‘I knew it would be tough but just for the experience I went for an interview.
‘Lots of clubs and chairmen already have in their mind who they want to employ, though, and interviews are the last element of that – they have zeroed in on their man.
‘With Richie Barker, it was like that.
‘And then when a new manager comes in, it goes one of two ways.
‘Sometimes the staff stay in place, which can work if the people at the club really know their football and know those people are good at their jobs.
‘Other times, managers come in, clear the decks and bring in their own team because they feel that is what they need.
‘It is very difficult to argue the case either way.’
Having relinquished Connolly of his coaching role, Barker then decided he could do without a man who once scored a hat-trick for his country and played at a World Cup.
On the face of it, it seemed an absurd decision.
An obvious fall out had occurred, with rumours emerging of an abrasive character who alienated staff and team-mates alike with his incessant demands for higher standards.
Connolly, however, insists he was nothing but a good professional with his unflinching desire for more an asset, not a hindrance.
He said: ‘The manager wanted to go one way and I didn’t quite fit in with that.
‘I kept my head down but didn’t necessarily agree with how I was being treated.
‘It unfortunately meant I had to go out on loan to get some football.
‘I couldn’t stay where I was – it was made clear that wasn’t the best option for me. So as much as I didn’t want to, I went to Oxford and scored goals – I was a good pro.
‘I think maybe people might be making a bit too much of my expectation levels.
‘I had a will to win and a will to do my best which is why I got on well with fans at most clubs.
‘But it wasn’t like I was a troublemaker – I was just trying to drive things on on the pitch.
‘In those difficult situations you want to have personal pride and try to drag those who want to, to come with you.
‘I still speak to lots of people at Pompey and get on very well with them – players as well.
‘You can only be who you are and I was never that great to just rely on ability.
‘I had to work really, really hard and be very dilligent about my job and about playing football.
‘It takes you where it takes you – I was not trying to settle for less.’
With Barker sacked after a disastrous four-month stay, Awford was appointed to keep the Blues in League Two.
It was a task he achieved without Connolly, who remained exiled, despite scoring a number of goals the previous season when Awford had served as Whittingham’s assistant.
‘Most people I have worked for have been keen to work with me again – I take that as a positive,’ said Connolly.
‘But I understand every manager who comes in has their own view and may want to do things their own way.
‘Whether Andy looked at me and thought “too old, too this or too that” – I was not what he wanted.
‘I felt I could still do a job for Pompey but I was not selected.
‘As much as you don’t agree with it and think it is wrong, if the club back the manager which I think people like Mark Catlin always have – all you can do is try to understand the rationale behind it.
‘If they say “I don’t want Dave”, then that’s it.
‘We worked together before as a player and coach but when Andy became a manager he crossed over that white line and felt that was one decision he had to make. It was disappointing.
‘I was on the FA Uefa Pro Licence coaching course with him this month but we didn’t speak to each other about it.
‘I don’t hold any grudges in football or in life. And while I don’t agree with him, it is civil between us.
‘I am a reasonable man so there’s no ill feeling.’
Connolly failed to play a single game for Pompey under Awford following Barker’s exit before sealing his protracted departure in January 2015.
It was a messy conclusion to an otherwise impressive stay for the forward who retained admirers among the Fratton faithful.
Certainly, 12 goals – all under Whittingham – in 38 appearances points to a man who delivered on the field of play during a transitional period for the club.
Perhaps the biggest testament to his Blues impact was the fact fans soon forgot he had joined from bitter rivals Southampton.
Connolly said: ‘I didn’t have any hesitations – I just viewed Pompey as a huge football club playing in a different division at the time.
‘The fans like hard workers and that appealed to me.
‘I had also played with Guy a few times at Wolves before and also knew Steve Allen, the physio, from my time at Wimbledon years ago.
‘The club were in transition and sometimes it is better the devil you know – although I was recovering from a bad knee injury and started out with a 5-0 defeat!
‘At 35 it takes a while to get going but once I did I think I had a fairly decent record – there were some good times.
‘It was a new dawn for the club when I played but I am sure there are now structures in place to go from strength to strength.
‘And I would tell anyone if they were given a chance to go and play for Pompey – it is a great club and has amazing fans.
‘That’s not platitudes and I wouldn’t say that about every club.
‘But if you love football you want to play for a club like Pompey.’
Now 38, Connolly is channeling his passion for football in his role as Academy coach at Millwall.
David Connolly on...
...POMPEY’S PROMOTION HOPES
I watch all football and as Millwall under-18s coach this season I used a clip of Pompey against Bournemouth to show my players.
I think they have a really good chance of going up – they have played some good stuff this season and over the two legs I do fancy them to get the better of Plymouth.
And in a one-off game, anything can happen.
It never felt like ‘woe is us’ on that winless run – you just have to believe your quality will come out in the end and you will start turning things around.
It took a while but ultimately that started with the Crewe game which was great – I scored a goal and we won.
Results from there were much better.
...WORLD CUP MEMORIES
The strength of Ireland in 2002 was the team itself.
We had some world-class players but only a few – and actually getting to the World Cup was the hard part.
We had to win a play-off against Iran – the away leg had 100,000 people there.
I actually played in three losing play-offs for World Cup 1998, Euro 2000 and 2004 so knew what we were facing.
There’s not a lot that can replicate that.
I say that but it went to penalties against Spain and I took one in the last 16 of the World Cup.
I missed it, well Iker Casillas saved it – but most keepers would have done!
We lost that day but being part of the national set-up for eight to 10 years was really special.