Profile - Sean Connolly
Tuesday, 01 August 2000 00:00
Throughout all their glory years “Town” have boasted few more gifted footballers than one who never helped them lift an honour. A profile from the season 2000-2001.
The current Clubman of the year, Sean Connolly or “Big Scone” as he is known to all, is remembered as a player whose special skills should have graced a higher stage.
He was an all-rounder of the highest order and his versatility made him well nigh indispensible to a succession of managers. He radiated quality, controlling the ball with calm assurance and passing it perceptively and accurately. He had a supreme delicacy of touch, especially with his head, that often defied belief. He was renowned for his perfectly timed sliding tackles and his impeccable reading of the game could be trusted to neutralise the quickest and wiliest of opponents.
But what made him special was scorn for the orthodox. He had a disconcerting tendency to control the ball in his own goal area and then swagger forward selling outrageous dummies and nutmegging opponents as he headed towards safety. Inevitably such an eccentric talent was doomed to periodic aberrations but it would be hard to find a supporter who didn’t reckon them a small price to pay for so much that was captivating.
Soccer was not his only sporting pursuit however and he was a very accomplished gaelic footballer. However his penchant for heading points was frowned upon and he never achieved any great success in that code but that did not diminish his enthusiasm and enjoyment from playing the game.
He was an immense individual – in terms of physique and personality – and he was held in high affection by supporters who still fondly recollect tales of his acerbic wit, abrasive invective and melodramatic gestures which romanticised his propensity for falling foul of authority.
It was as a 15 year old centre forward that “Big Scone” first left an imprint on the local sporting scene when he played for Enniskillen Rangers and his goals-to-games ration for one so young was remarkable. His sojourn with them was brief however as he sought work in England and the formation of “Town” during the summer of 1970 coincided with one of his many regular return visits home. He was a member of the first ever “Town” side and he was an outstanding player for the Club which experienced fleeting moments of glory but, which in general, was a frustrated hotbed of unfulfilled potential in its early years.
He performed predominantly for “Town” in a central defensive position and he was a truly inspirational centre-hal;f who brought a commanding presence to the core of “Town’s” rearguard. Opposing centre-forwards seemed to be swallowed up by his all-pervading presence and most were rendered ineffective – it was a rare adversary who could unsettle him.
He also played for Tempo Town in the late 1970s following an internal disagreement and only returned to the “Town” colours on the village side’s demise. Soon after he was cajoled into accepting the position of “A” team manager – a demanding proposition in any circumstances but for “Big Scone” in the summer of 1982 it was a task of particularly awesome magnitude. He had taken over a relegated side and critics predicted a lengthy stay in Division II but his charges confounded them by winning promotion back to Division I at the first attempt. However their stay in the top flight was short and they suffered the ignominy of being relegated for the second time in two years although eventual survival might have been achieved had they not been defeated in the semi-final of the Mulhern Cup.
Despite his relative success as a manager, his players will testify that he was not a comfortable man for whom to play. Praise was so rare that if they got any at all they knew they had been outstanding. More often, even after famous victories, he would grumble that they should have done ‘better’ – an approach some individuals could accept but which grated with others.
He resumed playing but a broken leg sustained in a reserve game in 1984 not only ruled him out for the rest of the season but ended his playing career and dimmed his enthusiasm sufficiently to prompt his resignation as Club Chairman – a position he had held for almost two years.
However his interest in the fortunes of the “Town” never waned over the years and the club has indeed been well served by his remarkable contribution. It has honoured him with a life vice presidency in recognition of his efforts on behalf of the club particularly in the promotion of the Prize Lotto with which his name is now synonymous.
Nowadays “Big Scone” follows the sporting fortunes of his sons Mark and Rory with avid interest and immense pleasure. Despite their prolific achievements, and the lavish praise that has been bestowed upon them, there are those who maintain that the gifted sons will never “quite be the equal” of their less acclaimed father.
Who was the biggest influence on your career?
Who were your most difficult opponents?
Both John Craig and Adrian Hopkins were outstanding footballers. They were the two players who stood out in my time. “Hoppy” was in a class of his own.
What were your biggest thrills in the game?
“Town” winning their first Mulhern Cup in 1990 and the Irish Junior Cup in 1994.
What is your biggest disappointment in the game?
“Town’s” failure to win the Mercer League.
Have you ever been booked or sent off?
I was sent off on 21 occasions and booked 3004 times (I’m only joking!!). On one occasion I told a referee who was sending me off that my name was James Joyce. I got a 2 week suspension for being sent off and other 6 weeks for giving the wrong name. On another occasion, after having being sent off I came back on to the pitch and tackled “Hoppy” who was straight through on goal – same sentence as above (I presumably came back on without the referees permission!!).
What is your favourite ground?
Celtic Park, Enniskillen.
Who are your favourite “Town” players of the past?
Phil Nolan, Brian Nolan and Joe Campbell. Phil was the best midfielder around of his generation. Brian was the first in a long line of excellent “Town” keepers and Joe never knew when he was beaten. They formed the basis of a very good “Town” team in the 1970s.
Which present day “Town” players do you most admire?
Rory Judge whose power and commitment cannot be disputed; Neil Cox who has a commanding presence in goals; Martin McGourty whose work rate is phenomenal and my favourite son who I think has the potential to be very special indeed (I’m talking about Rory!!).
What were the best goals you have ever seen?
Gary Beckett’s hat tricks against Enniskillen Rangers and Dergview in Season 1992-93 were very special.
What other sports do you enjoy?
Squash, Golf, Tennis and the steam room in the Forum.
What are your hopes for next season?
For “Town” to win the league, the “Town” lotto to exceed £10,000 and to compete with my sons at golf.
What are your long-term ambitions?
For “Town” to win the Irish Youth Cup, the Mercer League, the Champions league and their own ground.