David Connolly’s Exclusive interview: He reflects on him being an “Angry Ant” and his partnership with Defoe
Author: ExWHUEmployee. Published: 24 January 2017 at 9:34pm
Written by David Connolly
We are delighted to announce that David Connolly will join our already impressive list of ex players writing for the site. We hope to receive more regular articles from our former Irish international forward this season
Following your spell at Watford you secured a move to Dutch giants Feyenoord. How did this move come about and what was it like to play for them?
I was lucky to make my debut for Ireland I was 18 I think and coming to the end of my contract at Watford. I had scored a hat trick in a World Cup qualifying game for Ireland and then played against Portugal and Holland, in Feyenoord’s stadium and I impressed them. I was free transfer and it just happened to be they liked me and wanted a goalscorer.
It was an amazing club, the first day at training there was around 5000 people watching and they had to put up temporary stands. This level of passion was an ongoing theme, as training was often watched by many fans, even the open day inside the stadium attracted 50,000 fans throughout the day or more. I scored on my debut and there were players such as Ronald Koeman, Henrik Larsson, Giovanni Van Bronckhorst and Jerzy Dudek there it was incredible and the level of training was just phenomenal.
I quickly learned technically I was behind these players and the average player had great football ability which drove me to practise, practise practise but I felt I was always playing catch up.
I scored 2 against Ajax away in the most fierce match, Feyenoord hadn’t beaten Ajax away in 26 years, me this little kid from where I came from scoring twice and being carried off on Jerzy Dudek’s shoulders it was surreal to be honest. One left foot, one right foot and an assist, it was a great game. They had Christain Chivu at the back and Van de Vaart. The season I left they offered me a new contract and we were in The Champions league again but there were new people in charge at the top and in the end I chose to come back to Wimbledon. I was just on the verge of signing again when my Ireland teammate Kenny Cunningham rang me to see if I would join Wimbledon, they had just been relegated but it was a chance to come back home and I took it.
As it turns out that season Feyenoord won The UEFA Cup!
You made the 2002 Ireland World Cup squad. Can you describe that experience and what was your take on Roy Keane’s spectacular fall out?
The process of getting there was probably something people take for granted, but we had lost in three play offs, I had played in each, all such huge huge matches: Euro 2000 Playoffs defeat against Turkey, 1998 World Cup playoff defeat against Belgium and a 2004 Euro Playoff loss to Switzerland. These games were so big the pressure was so huge it’s what you play football for. Thankfully we won the 2002 World Cup Play off and I played and was proud to be selected for such a significant game.
In the other play offs we lost out on the away goals rule, this time we went through on it and to play a small part against Spain in the last 16 was special. I guess we look back on what could have been as we came close to beating Spain but I missed a penalty in the shoot out which was a real low and we went out on penalties. South Korea were next up in the quarter finals and you just never know where we could have reached.
I sat next to Roy on the flight there and he could be brilliant company with a great sense of humour but he could also quite easily cut you down and that was how he was built, like us all, we are made differently but we got on well, he roomed next door and I lent him some DVDs etc as teammates do. The fall out was such a shame as with him I feel obviously we would have progressed I really do and it created a very unpleasant situation for everyone and in particular Mick McCarthy who is a great man. I believe at that point there was some friction and always had been with Mick and Roy as past teammates. I actually could see a lot of good in both and liked them both a lot and respected them.
Roy felt things weren’t done as well as they should be and he was right I guess at such an event he couldn’t believe Ireland had no kit on our first training day or that we had no Gk’s for training. The GK coach Packie Bonner had worked them so hard come the game time, they couldn’t join in. Roy was right we all felt the same, he vocalised it his way and the rest is history.
Ironically, I was recording the trip with a video camera and I brought it everywhere but when the meeting was called I left it in my room, as it was, I was sat next to Roy when it all kicked off in the meeting room, you couldn’t write it.
You started your career under a certain Glenn Roeder who gave you your first team debut and then joined him again at West Ham. What did you think of Glenn as a manager?
I was very happy to join West Ham and had worked with Glenn before at Watford so it was nice to hear I was wanted by such a great club. I was on the back of scoring 24 goals in 28 games in The Championship which was the highest in all the leagues in England and I won a golden boot so I was in good form. I wanted to move there above other clubs as it was such an historic club and the players they had, I took a pay cut to join but I considered it worth it.
How did you feel after Roeder described you as “an angry ant” after being left out for the first game?
I had to battle and scrap for everything and always stood up for myself and my family, it’s just how you are made I believe. I didn’t like bullies and I did have a clear sense of right and wrong and couldn’t entertain people who maybe did things a different way. I struggled to see the grey then, I saw most things as black and white such as being treated unfairly when undeserving of it. I didn’t agree with and would stand up for myself when maybe someone less would let things slide I couldn’t to my detriment.
I also cared deeply about my football and possibly was a little sensitive!
Did you enjoy your time at the club?
I am very proud to have worn the West Ham shirt, it is an iconic club with such a rich history, I never dreamed I would play for such clubs. So many players I played with would have bitten their arm off to play for such clubs and I appreciate how lucky I was, but I always did know how lucky I was, I never took it for granted.
Yes, I started off like a house on fire and loved playing with such great players, particularly Jermain Defoe who inspired me with his finishing ability, I fed off wanting to have his power and accuracy and I just wish I had stayed as a forward rather than be moved to a number 10.
I was probably just on the tails of being the player or forward I wanted to be when Alan Pardew took over and he then moved me deeper.
He ironically wanted to sign me before he moved to West Ham but after the most prolific period of my career with 24 in 28 for Wimbledon and then on similar number of goals per games at the start of my West Ham career, I was pushed slightly further back with more defensive responsibilities which affected my greatest strength. Although I had the game to be a number 10 I wanted to score goals and that was why I left in the end, I wanted to play up front as a 9.
What was your favourite memories of your time here?
Scoring on my debut was fantastic, as was the early part of my first season, when we were in a 442 playing with Jermain. The win over Ipswich away was great as Jermain scored a goal only he could, smashing it in left foot with such power from outside the box at the GK’s near post, whilst I scored my favourite Hammers goal-a left foot volley as below.
What was your best goal?
A volley against Ipswich I think, I put in one of our lads and his shot was blocked I remember, the ball bounced outside the area and I was able to volley it left foot in a difficult technique past the GK. I practised my finishing so much to improve technically I considered it a pleasure but I just wanted to be as good as I could be and this goal was maybe the result of hours of practice especially, as it was my left foot!
I did score 3 goals for Ireland all with my left foot, and I consider details like these important as I just tried to improve every part of my game and in the end it takes you where it takes you!
There was talk at the time that you and Jermain Defoe refused to pass to each other in matches as you both wanted to score the goals. Is this true? What was your relationship like with him?
As above I thought he was amazing and inspired me to push on and we got on great, we both wanted to score goals and you need players with such a desire. He lived for football like me and he is such a great talent, I have no idea where the stories came from. I sometimes passed when I could have shot and Jermain sometimes too, that is the decision making you make but honestly I loved playing with him.
Do you still keep in touch with any of the players from your West Ham days?
Sadly not, football can be so transient but I popped into the training ground a few years ago and spoke to a few of the boys still there such as Mark Noble and I bumped into Teddy Sheringham recently. I saw Bobby Zamora little while ago, so when I see the players its great but with so much moving around and in the season everyone is so focused on their game keeping these relationships becomes harder and harder which is a shame.
In your time at West Ham you were managed by Roeder, Brooking and Pardew. How would you describe your relationship with each manager?
I would like to think each would have me in the trenches beside them and could count on me as a solid character, honest would run through a brick wall regardless if selected or not, I didn’t sulk I just tried harder. Injuries and the like affected this though and the hours of practice ruined my groins and hips and I had over six operations in this area in my career which robbed me of so many games.
Why did you leave the club and did you want to go?
I was told: Bobby Zamora, Marlon Harewood and myself were put up for sale after the play off final defeat ( I don’t know if this is true) once I heard that I felt if Alan had lost confidence in me then it was time to go. As I say, I was playing deeper as a 10 and I didn’t enjoy it as much as a 9.
If a bid came in for any of us I heard it was who would go first. Leicester had just been relegated from The Premier League and I felt I needed to play as a 9.
You played for five other clubs after leaving West Ham. Do you have any particular favourite memories from that period?
I joined Wigan in their debut Premier league season after leading the Championship scoring charts at the start of the season for Leicester City and scored on my debut- a great feeling. It was a wonderful part of the club’s history finishing as high as we did with a top 10 finish. I also played every round of the our League Cup run to the final v Manchester United ( I scored the winner past my Ireland teammate Shay Given in the quarter final, a special moment) but got injured in the Semi-final v Arsenal. Another injury having a negative effect on my career.
I missed a lot of game time and was down the pecking order when I got back fit, so rather than sit there I dropped down a division to Sunderland.
Winning the league with Sunderland in my first season was brilliant, I was top scorer and got on so well with everyone, the fans and team-mates. What a great set of fans and when I look back I feel the clubs I played for reflected my personality, honest, hard working, passionate who loved football such as West Ham, Sunderland, Portsmouth and Feyenoord. They are working class, honest and I got on with the fans at these clubs very well I think, as I loved my football and I am a football fan, it’s the best sport in the world.
With Southampton we won back to back promotions and as a 35/36 year old playing with the young lads coming through such as Adam Lallana, Morgan Schneiderlin and Rickie Lambert was fantastic. They were great lads and I can’t speak highly enough of these lads and others, who were top pros, they loved their football. I was the older player who they came to for some advice and their enthusiasm and ability was like West ham all those years previously where their ability inspired you.
These lads have gone onto great things and it’s no surprise they were such brilliant people and that is what the game is about.
The season we won promotion I started off on fire and then my groins started hurting again as they did at Sunderland and I had another operation, and when I got back in, I injured my knee going in on the GK and suffered a bad grade 2 medial ligament injury and at 36 was released sadly.
Just as I was returning back to The Premier League I was released and then spent considerable time attempting to get back playing which at 36 and after so many injuries wasn’t easy.
A physio friend was helping me recover and he was at Portsmouth, they were in an awful situation and so was I, I just wanted to go where I would find good people and I did that. Once I was fit I scored something like 7 in 11 games and despite being relegated for the financial situation, I found a great club with amazing fans who packed in every week regardless what league their team was in. It was such a pleasure to play for them, I became Captain/ Player Coach and enjoyed my time before coming full circle back to the first club I came to when I returned from Holland, Wimbledon.
Now in charge was Neal Ardley, I was 38, my body had gone through so much, I had plenty of time on my contract left but running around after Akinfenwa was a young player’s game. So after scoring the winner v Luton, I said to Neal thanks so much for going out on a high but spend your money on a younger player who can offer you a little more.
I guess I signed for clubs where people knew me: from Glenn Roeder and Alan Pardew who signed me at Southampton after working together at West Ham. To Roy Keane at Sunderland to Neal Ardley at Wimbledon, so I feel lucky and proud people thought I was a decent enough sort.