Rob Cornell's jottings on the five new signings
With Neal Ardley having completed all of his transfer business well in advance of today’s transfer deadline, it gave Rob Cornell plenty of time to prepare one of his behind-the-scenes blogs on comings and goings at AFC Wimbledon.
Our WDON commentator met all five January signings – Jake Reeves, Deji Oshilaja, David Connolly, Craig Tanner and Alfie Potter – as part of media coverage on the days they signed.
It also provided an inside track about the life of a League 2 manager during the January transfer window and Rob's blog is published below.
Now that the dust has settled on a memorable month for AFC Wimbledon, I thought it time to lift the lid and write a few words about providing media coverage on an eventful time for the club.
It all started with running Liverpool so close in the FA Cup, a proud day for everyone connected with the club since its rebirth in 2002, and a privilege to commentate on for WDON. As part of the Bring The Dons Home, a picture of yours truly holding up the trademark banner appeared in the Wimbledon Guardian. It’s another opportunity for ‘Bayzo’ to give me stick about my haircut!
The January transfer window was certainly a busy and intriguing one at our New Malden training complex. In terms of departures, it’s a strange feeling. One day you’re chatting with some great professionals and characters ahead of a game, the next they’re gone – without even a chance to say goodbye.
On the day Jake Reeves returned to the club, my mind wandered back to an interesting, off-camera chat with Neal. The manager laid out a fascinating plan for the squad for the second half of the season and beyond. Getting your targets is the hard part though and requires sacrifices as the manager told me before I interviewed one of our January signings.
“Are we watching this movie then?!” Neal was asked by his wife as he successfully landed another target late one evening while ‘relaxing’ in his living room. It was a sign that the gaffer was fully committed to one task at least!
My part in the transfer window starts with a call from Communications Executive Chris Slavin the night before a proposed move. Between us, we’ll interview the new player and the manager after doing all the necessary research.
Jake was a player Neal had referred to in glowing terms during interviews after the player’s departure back to Brentford. It was noticeable that the interview with Jake was a lot easier than the first time I met him in 2012 when he was just 19. Jake Reeves had changed a lot, certainly since the early days of Neal Ardley’s reign when he was signed on loan. He’d filled out physically and looked a more confident figure.
DejI Oshilaja soon followed. Neal gave me a pronunciation lesson before the cameras rolled and it worked. “Deji”, as he likes to be known, is much easier to pronounce on match days for WDON!
He’s a player well-known to Neal from Cardiff Academy days and that comes across well as a key reason why he joined the Dons. Deji is also very articulate and a five-minute interview followed, which included mention that he turned down other clubs to sign for Wimbledon.
It also helps break the ice when you meet a new player for the first time to have a link. In DejI’s case, I mention former Dons player and WDON player-of-the-season Jon Meades – the pair were team-mates at the Cardiff academy.
Meades was also referred to when we met another player with an Oxford link – Alfie Potter. While waiting for the Dons squad to arrive back in after training, we greeted Alfie in the car park on his first day after he had tied up the loose ends of his departure from Oxford.
Having been informed by the Oxford United press office that they would be announcing Alfie’s departure at 1.30 pm, the clock is ticking to do our interviews and photographs, before breaking the news on Dons Player/the official website. It was one of those cold lunchtime stints at the training ground, but Alfie’s face lit up (as if by magic!) when the squad returned. He was greeted by warm welcomes, in particular from Sean Rigg and Dannie Bulman, as they both previously played with him at Oxford United. It was unclear whether Alfie had missed Dannie’s dry sense of humour!
Integrating a player into the group quickly is certainly helped when there are familiar faces around. Alfie has made his footballing decision and after he’s given a quick, initial briefing by Neal, I over hear how the player is going to make his family life fit in around training arrangements at his new club. As a lifelong supporter of the Dons, it’s all interesting stuff. Though the end product is there for all to see on the pitch, the logistics involved off it are sometimes underestimated when a player moves club.
It was a lot easier for experienced campaigner David Connolly though. Living nearby, had he ever been away from the Wimbledon story? Probably not! When he didn’t have a game, David revealed he had been a spectator at the Cherry Red Records Stadium. However, David had to tell a friend that he would not be accompanying him in the Chemflow End for the Carlisle match because he would be sitting on the bench!
In early exchanges off camera, what came across loud and clear was David’s appetite to continue putting the ball in the back of the net after 20 years – and an average scoring ratio of a goal every 2.5 games. Neal Ardley was very impressed with his former team-mate’s finishing at training - and it certainly wasn’t lost on final January recruit Craig Tanner. The 20-year-old revealed after his first training session with the Dons that he had just admired a master-class in finishing from his much more experienced team-mate.
Craig seemed a very slight and shy young lad from first impression, but he gave an excellent account of himself on his first interview wearing the badge. It was a performance that grew in authority as the striker played an integral part of a first victory over Accrington last Saturday. I got to see why Reading put the “handcuffs” on our loan player by getting him to sign a two-and-a-half year deal!
Another frantic month shows the time Neal Ardley devotes to his job during January – and it doesn’t involve watching a film uninterrupted!
Career details on each of AFC Wimbledon's new signings is available in our updated Player Profiles section on the official website.