Dundee United defender Mark Connolly has paid an emotional tribute to his late father who sadly passed away last month after a short battle with cancer.
Connolly rushed home to Ireland to be with his family soon after playing in United’s defeats to St Mirren and Hibs at the end of January, completing 90 minutes in both matches carrying the worry of his dad’s ill health.
Martin Connolly died the following week at the age of 67 before Connolly Jnr returned to Scotland in time to be in the match day squads for Livingston and Rangers.
The 29-year-old centre-half managed 35 minutes off the bench in the 1-1 draw at Kilmarnock on Saturday and praised boss Micky Mellon and his Tangerines team-mates for their support in getting him through a tough time.
Boss Mellon offers huge support to grieving Connolly
“The manager has been incredible, he’s also lost his father and he gave me some words of advice, which is huge,” the Irishman said.
“My dad was never ill before and to get a phone call just before the St Mirren game to say he had cancer and then a week later my mum phoning me to say I’ve to get home right away was tough.
“The boys’ support and messages and since I’ve come back have been different class.
“There’s been no difference in the way they treat me or the way they are. I think that’s a huge thing for me.
“My family got loads of messages and the boys have sent cards to my mother back in Ireland so the support has been something I’ll never forget and something I’ll take with me moving forward.”
“He drove me the length and breadth of Ireland to play football”
Connolly says his father was influential in shaping his career as a footballer and will miss sharing all the highs and the lows with him.
“He was huge for my career,” Connolly continued.
“From the day I was born to the day I moved to Wolves when I was 16, he drove me the length and breadth of Ireland to play football – whether that was Gaelic or soccer as we call it back home!
“I spoke to him every single day after training. He’d ring me and ask how it went, after games as well, whether I’d played or not.
“He’d tell me if I was good or not good and that’s been difficult the last few weeks, finishing training and not having that person to call.
“It’s something I’m going to have to deal with and I can feel he’s still with me and just want to make sure I keep making him proud.
“I want to keep giving absolutely everything while I’m playing football and as a father.
“My dad was a really good person and that’s something I want to bring forward in my life.”
Family values crucial moving forward for defender
As a father himself to two kids, Ora and Rohan, and wife to Rosa, Connolly is counting his blessings and says he hopes to continue to make his dad proud on and off the pitch.
He added: “It’s put a lot of things into perspective and I never thought I’d lose somebody in my family so young, especially my father, who was so huge in my life and my football career.
“I come away from it and I think about how lucky I am to do the job do and lead the life I have.
“Moving forward, for me, it’s about continuing to work hard and make sure, whatever I’m doing, I set standards and make sure I’m making him proud.
“He was a good man, with morals and that’s something I want to bring forward for myself while I’m playing football, especially for Dundee United, but also for my kids and my family.”
Terrors are “still fighting” for top-six finish ahead of Celtic and Aberdeen clashes
As for the football, Connolly was disappointed his return to the field didn’t garner three points for United as Zech Medley’s strike cancelled out Adrian Sporle’s opener at Rugby Park.
“It was one of those ones where Kilmarnock are fighting for their lives and it was a difficult game,” he said.
“First half we got in front and I think the problem was we were just allowing too many balls into the box.
“Eventually, at some stage, the more that come in, the more chance there is that they’ll score.
“We probably could’ve sneaked something at the end. Lawrence (Shankland) had a chance and so did Sparky (Marc McNulty).
“It was disappointing not to get the three points.
“It was a tough few weeks getting back into it, back to training and coming on at the weekend.
“We didn’t get the result in the end that we wanted but, for me and my family, it was something that I knew my dad was with me.
“I wanted to get back on the field and whatever games we’ve got left, if I’m playing, I’m playing, if not I’ll keep giving everything.
“I’ve just got to keep trying to make him proud and keep kicking on.”
Dropping points in Ayrshire meant the Terrors’ hopes of finishing in the top six took a dent as St Mirren opened up a four-point gap to sixth.
With two games to go, against Celtic and Aberdeen at Tannadice, Connolly knows it won’t be easy but insists they aren’t giving up the fight to make the Premiership top half.
He commented: “We’re still fighting for it, we’ve got two games left and in football you don’t know what’s going to happen.
“We could win the next two games and that’s our aim. We’re still fighting for top six but Saturday was definitely a massive blow for us.
“We won’t give up, we’ve got to keep fighting for the rest of the games that we have.
“We’ve got to keep trying to get there and, if not, we finish off the season as high as we can.
“We’ve got make sure that we show up and put in a performance to the standard that this club deserves.
“Hopefully, and you want to play against top teams, we can get results against the two of them.
“I’m sure we can if we turn up.”