Belfast Telegraph

Connolly will be driven by memory of his late dad

 

My hero: Ballinamallard United goalkeeper John Connolly with his late father, Sean
My hero: Ballinamallard United goalkeeper John Connolly with his late father, Sean

By Graham Luney

John Connolly says his greatly missed late father Sean will firmly be in his thoughts amid the hype of an Irish Cup final tomorrow.

Ballinamallard United have progressed to the decider for the first time and Connolly hopes to exorcise the ghost of the 2009 final when his Cliftonville side lost to Crusaders.

The Crues are his opponents again but the 42-year-old knows there are far more important things in life than winning a football match.

Baby boy Noah, his partner Suzanne and daughter Shelby will be cheering on the Mallards stopper, but Connolly is still coming to terms with the loss of Sean, who passed away on April 30 last year.

The man John calls his 'hero and inspiration' suffered a fall at home and never recovered from the accident. He was buried on his 83rd birthday.

"It's a tough week for me personally," said Connolly, who has seen off Dungannon Swifts and Warrenpoint Town in penalty shoot-outs en route to the May showpiece.

"I miss my dad a lot and it would have been great to have him at the Cup final. His support meant everything to me and I'll be emotional. He was my hero and inspiration.

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"I've no doubt dad will be looking down on me on Saturday. He loved going to the games and he was my biggest fan and biggest critic at the same time. He made me laugh a lot going home from games and the odd time he would just turn up at a match when I didn't expect to see him.

"He was a real football man who played for Bohemians in his career and he was proud of what I have achieved."

Connolly has a spring in his step after agreeing a one-year deal with the Mallards and he's daring to dream of Cup glory after fighting back from a potential career-ending injury.

"It's great to have a game of this importance at the end of a long, hard season," he added.

"It's only when you come to the club that you get the real sense of excitement and buzz around the place. It's a small village and everyone is looking forward to the game.

"It would be nice to move on from the disappointment of the Cliftonville final but it's also nice to be involved in such an historic game because I've had a rough time with the injury and I'm really determined to enjoy this journey I'm on now.

"We are confident, while at the same time we realise it's going to be a big step up from the challenges in previous rounds.

"We took Premiership teams by surprise in the way we approached the game and played, and hopefully we can cause Crusaders a few problems as well.

"The club has been given a huge boost and hopefully we can take things to the next step by encouraging more young players to join the club and assist us in our bid to gain promotion to the Premiership next season."

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