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20 Jan 2022

USL standard as good as NI Championship - Danny McConnell

USL standard as good as NI Championship - Danny McConnell

Danny McConnell with his son Stephen McConnell and grandson Caolan McConnell

In August 2020, Danny McConnell was announced as the new manager of Letterkenny Rovers.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic delayed McConnell’s second coming as the Rovers boss by a full year after the shelving of the 2020/21 campaign.

McConnell guided Rovers to their first Ulster Senior League success in 2005, while he also had successful spells as manager of his native Drumoghill and Swilly Rovers.

Eighteen months ago, close allies warned McConnell that the game - and more specifically its players - had vastly changed since his previous spell in the Leckview Park technical area from 2003-2007.

“I actually haven’t seen a big difference at all to be honest,” McConnell says.

“Jason Gibson and ‘Trout’ (Michael Lynch, his assistant manager) both said that I would notice a big difference.

“The same problems and issues are still there when it comes to dealing with footballers.

“I always have believed that the guy coming from senior football will have a better attitude than players from intermediate or junior levels. They’re more professional.”

It was a long wait for McConnell to get to work - “I had a longer unbeaten run than any Rovers manager, I’d say,” he laughs - after his succession of Eamon McConigley.

McConnell’s Rovers have had an indifferent start to the 2021/22 season and sit 12 points behind the early leaders Bonagee United.

This Saturday, Rovers resume action with an away game at Strabane Athletic in the North West of Ireland Intermediate Cup (1.30pm), which sees USL teams and teams from the Northern Ireland Intermediate League compete.

“It’s great to get going again,” he says.

“This competition is great for Ulster Senior League teams. It’s nice to be playing different opposition.

“We have six teams in our own League so we only have five regular opponents. This Cup is a brilliant idea and I think we could make it a bigger competition than it is.

“The standard of the Ulster Senior League to me is as good as the Championship (a tier above the Northern Ireland Intermediate League) in the Irish League. Our standard is definitely as good as theirs.

“Their preparation and structure is just better. They play games every Saturday at three o’clock. Our games are all over the place.

“But outside of that, during 90 minutes of a match we could match most of them; it’s just the lead-up at our end that’s weaker. It was the same when the USL had 12 teams where there was too much messing around and pitches weren’t as good.”

Strabane are under the watch of player-manager Rory Patterson, the ex FC United of Manchester and Derry City striker.

McConnell watched them lose out on penalties to Portstewart in the Craig Cup final over Christmas and expects the Mournesiders to be ‘a useful side’.

McConnell has bid adieu to Conor Tourish (Finn Harps), Ciaran Kelly (Swilly Rovers) Connor Gormley (Swilly Rovers) and Kevin McGrath (Oldtown Celtic).

He says: “I was disappointed with a couple of them leaving. Conor going to Finn Harps and senior football is understandable and Connor is going back to his own home club, which was also understandable.

“We lost them now and we have to move on. Covid has been a culprit for us too and we’re down a couple this week, but that’s an issue at most teams at the moment I think. We can float two of our Donegal League players and have some good youth players to draft in too.”

McConnell has added striker Gabriel Aduaka from Institute and is monitoring some other possible additions to his squad.

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