Dylan Connolly has talked about the challenge he faced in swapping glory in Irish football with Dundalk for a relegation battle with AFC Wimbledon.
During an extensive chat with the Off The Ball League of Ireland Podcast, the winger praised the atmosphere created by manager Wally Downes during the run-in, which helped Wimbledon to pull off The Great Escape.
“I put all the credit down to the manager,” said Dylan. “He created an atmosphere when he came in. I only went there shortly after he was appointed and you could sense the atmosphere he had built. He brought in his own players. Everyone was behind him and knew the goal, which was to stay in the division. It looked like we were down and out when I signed. We had played 30-odd games and we were on 23 points. We were 10 points behind and we managed to turn it around, which was a remarkable achievement.”
Dylan felt it was time to quit Dundalk in January and the lure of playing League One football was one that appealed to him.
“I was on holiday and I got a phone call from my agent Stephen Hunt. He asked if I was interested in going to AFC Wimbledon in League One. I said ‘let me think about it’. I had a look at the league table and the fixtures and I was thinking ‘it’s a bit of a task’. We were rock-bottom of the league. I knew that Wimbledon had a new manager with Wally Downes having taken the job, so I rang back and said it was a challenge I was willing to be a part of. We got the deal done quickly enough.
“I thought it was time to leave Dundalk and I looked at it as a challenge: you are playing in League One and you go to good stadiums. I thought it was a really good chance to kick-start my career again. I know people may think it’s a step down, but it’s not. It’s a quality league and you are playing at big stadiums like the Stadium of Light and Fratton Park. It was an opportunity I had to take.
“It took me time to get up to speed, but I was making cameos off the bench and stuff. It was difficult at first, but I made my first start against West Ham and we beat them 4-2. I had a good game so I kicked on from there. The next week we played Sunderland away and I suffered a small fracture on my ankle. That put me out for five weeks and it dented my season, but it was still good to be around the place and make cameos when I could.
“The day before the match against West Ham we were watching Newport beat Leicester. Before our game the manager said ‘take inspiration from what Newport did yesterday, it’s an FA Cup game, a one-off match, and anything can happen’. I remember just after half-time that we were 3-0 up and I really couldn’t believe it! I was on the pitch thinking, ‘what’s going on here?’ The manager said that when you are the underdogs you have to go out and show the opposition what you can do. That’s what we did and it was a great night.”
In the interview, Dylan also reveals his fear of cats! Confronted by 10 of them back in his Ipswich days, Dylan admits he made a quick exit from his digs! Listen to the full interview (starting after 47 minutes) by visiting the OTB website.