Striker who refuses to be forgotten

David Connolly remains on the fringes of the Pompey first-team squad
David Connolly remains on the fringes of the Pompey first-team squad
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He hasn’t made a single Pompey appearance since January 18, 2014.

But there can no ignoring the presence of David Connolly.

Like Macbeth among the acting fraternity, the very mention of the 37-year-old’s name is met with a frown at Fratton Park.

During an era of unquestionable openness and transparency from the Pompey hierarchy downwards, this is one issue never publicly addressed.

The raising of the topic prompts the unmistakable tightening of lips and the blunt changing of conversations.

Connolly is the unspoken word.

Regardless, the veteran striker’s future is a lingering subject which produces the most questions to The News’ sports desk from readers, whether through the Pompey Live blog, website comments section or via Twitter.

An ongoing plight of a one-time favourite which fascinates many of the bemused Fratton faithful.

Yet the overwhelming likelihood is he will never play for Pompey again.

In the meantime, the silence, the whispers and knowing nods from those in Pompey power are enough to accurately read between the lines.

The truth is, while there can be no doubting the former Republic of Ireland international’s ability, ultimately, his downfall appears to be the result of alienating key figures at the football club.

It’s a costly outcome for a player awarded a two-year deal on May 23, 2013 – a decision widely, and rightly, lauded by supporters at the time.

Since returning from last season’s loan spell with Oxford, Connolly has continued to train hard and been handed squad number 35. Yet both are irrelevant in terms of first-team selection.

Such actions – from both sides – are merely attempts not to incur the wrath of the Professional Footballers’ Association during the impasse.

Similarly, the ongoing silence is perceived as an approach to avoid stoking up the combustible situation.

Connolly was deemed a constantly disruptive figure last season to the point Richie Barker jettisoned him from the squad and encouraged his loan departure to Oxford.

This was not merely a Barker opinion, however. The fiery striker is believed to have clashed with others at the club – even team-mates.

Connolly is a straight-talking, highly-vocal individual whose career has led him to the 2002 World Cup and the Premier League.

He possesses high standards, insists on complete professionalism and demands facilities are supplied to follow that lead.

Here is a driven individual who wants the best, he craves success even in the twilight of his playing existence and wants no passengers.

Theoretically, hardly unreasonable. But people talk of an often abrasive manner which has offended young players as well as seniors, as a consequence draining positive energy.

In any team sport, such a presence can be potentially detrimental.

And it has long been the policy at Pompey to keep the postcard on top of the wasp in a cup.

Awford has made it clear he will not select him and, having been around the first team on-and-off since Connolly’s arrival in December 2012, is certainly familiar with the player.

What’s more, as manager, it is his decision.

Personally, having twice sat down at length for exclusive interviews with Connolly, I have found him a fascinating character brimming with passion and footballing ideas, with a destiny fixed firmly on coaching and possibly management.

To this day, Guy Whittingham insists he had no trouble managing the veteran, permitting him to assist with coaching, and it was with inevitability he appointed the striker as a Pompey player-coach on September 25, 2013.

Hence his devastation when Barker withdrew his treasured coaching responsibilities upon his arrival on December 9 last year. For the distraught Connolly, it effectively ended any attempts of a relationship with Barker, who preferred a hands-on approach and little involvement from others.

Interestingly, at the end of last season, a first-team player told me he thought Connolly’s coaching sessions were superb, well thought out and enjoyable.

By the time Barker left, the veteran had taken loan residence at Oxford and was out of the picture upon Awford’s impressive entrance as caretaker boss.

It was Awford’s second spell in the role – the first time arrived when Whittingham was sacked and Connolly offered to quit playing in favour of taking over the team in the meantime.

That request was turned down on account of his playing presence was still required.

He was, though, granted an interview for the manager’s job, only to be beaten by Barker.

Another Pompey rejection not forgotten.

Still, irrespective of his rock-bottom relationship with the club, calls for Connolly to return to first-team contention are unrealistic.

The ex-Southampton man has not played at any level since coming off for Oxford at half-time in a 1-0 defeat at Scunthorpe on April 21, 2014.

The last time he completed 90 minutes was also for the U’s – on March 21 in a 1-0 win over Hartlepool.

He netted four goals in 16 games there, with half of those appearances arriving from the bench – while just two were for the full 90 minutes.

Since then he has failed to be selected in so much as a first-team fixture, a friendly or even reserve game – five months without a single second of football.

Since the summer, talks have taken place over mutually agreeing to cancel his contract.

They have proven unsuccessful and it is understood, at this moment, Connolly is no longer willing to participate in discussions.

It leaves him stranded on 38 games and 12 goals for Pompey.

The relationship is over, no love remains.

Hopefully soon Connolly can move out of the family home – for everyone’s sake.