Aaron O’Connor is Forest Green Rovers’ new number seven and he has already scored six goals in nine appearances for The Rovers as they lead the National League. I speak to the talented striker about The Conference Play-Off Final, Brian Laws, and how he’s finding his new side.
Aaron O’Connor started his career at Ilkeston Town before making a move to Scunthorpe United in 2002. The striker went onto make three substitute appearances under manager Brian Laws. Laws decided to release the striker in February 2003 as he claimed O’Connor “didn’t have the right attitude”.
Following the release from Scunthorpe United, O’Connor had a brief spell with Non-League side, Nuneaton Borough before moving back to his first club, Ilkeston Town to see out the 2003/04 season. A move to Gresley Rovers in the summer of 2004 saw O’Connor win the Player’s Player of The Year, Manager’s Player of The Year and Supporter’s Player of The Year awards in both seasons.
After an impressive spell at The Moat Ground, O’Connor made a move to Grays Athletic in January 2007. He made his debut against Southport on the 6th January. The striker decided not to sign a new contract with The Blues and made a move to Mansfield Town on a free transfer. He went onto make 39 appearances, scoring eight Conference Premier Goals in the 2008/09 season.
The striker signed for Rushden & Diamonds on a one-year contract in June 2009 and after being appointed Captain, O’Connor signed a one-year extension. A brief spell at Luton Town in 2011 followed before O’Connor reunited with his former manager, Ex-Tottenham Defender Justin Edinburgh at Newport County. The striker was awarded with The August Conference Player of the Month in 2012 following on from a winning streak which lasted five games. During this successful period O’Connor scored six goals. Newport reached the 2013 Play-Offs after finishing 3rd in the league. O’Connor went onto score Newport’s second in their 2-0 win over Wrexham in the Wembley Final. He was released by Newport in May 2015 and was snapped up by National League favourites, Forest Green Rovers on a one-year contract.
How did you get into football and what are you first footballing memories?
I got into football by chance, it didn’t really interest me much but I was quick so my manager at school picked me for the side, and from there I began to like it more and more. My earliest memories are playing on the estate I lived on in Basford, Nottingham with my mum always screaming out her bedroom window for me to come in.
How did you find it as a Scunthorpe player?
I loved the experience as a Scunthorpe player, and I learnt a lot. I still had a semi-professional attitude when I was there. I learnt the hard way and made a lot of mistakes, but it put me in good position afterwards.
There are reports that Brian Laws said you “didn’t have the right attitude for the club”, how did you feel hearing these comments as a 19 year-old?
My attitude was fine, I was never late, and I always had the correct attire etc. I always gave 110% in training, I’ve always known how to conduct myself and speak to people with manners. But Like I previously said, I had a semi-professional attitude. An example would be when we had Carlisle away in a big FA Cup Replay… Lawsy was doing the pre match talk and my phone went off… Everyone else remembered to put theirs on silent or switch it off and I didn’t and Sod’s law it rang. But my attitude was always fine and always has been.
Did you notice anything different between your two spells at Ilkeston?
During my first spell, I was pretty much unknown and I started scoring goals for the reserves and then the first team every week playing as a striker. In my second spell I was playing on the wing and wasn’t enjoying it. It was after this I decided I needed a fresh start where I didn’t know anyone and I could focus on playing as a striker. After talking to numerous clubs I decided to sign for Gresley.
You spent two seasons at Gresley, what was it like winning the Player’s Player of The Year, Manager’s Player of The Year and Supporter’s Player of The Year awards in both seasons?
Signing for Gresley was the best decision I made. The manager Gary Norton was the main factor in that. He came across well when I met him and I knew I wanted to play for him. It was an honour winning so many awards and I still have them up in my mum’s house. I had an amazing time there and I met some amazing people, it was from my time there that my people really began to talk about me.
What was it like being captain of Rushden & Diamonds?
I was surprised to be named captain at Rushden but it was just another indication to me that justin Edinburgh had 100% faith in me, and that’s why he always got the best out of me. But I relished it, I wasn’t always the most vocal, but I’d try to be a voice with my performances as well as being vocal.
You scored over 25 goals for Rushden & Diamonds, is this where you really stepped up your game?
I think Rushden was when I started to learn the game on another level yes. I always knew I could score goals but it was there when I got an understanding of the game, positioning, knowing your team mates strengths and weaknesses etc. that improved dramatically.
Also, is this where you enjoyed your football the most?
I’d have to say that was my time at Newport. Winning promotion, the management, the fans, the goals I scored, the squad and bond we had, was something special.
How much of a part did Justin Edinburgh play in your career?
Justin has played a massive part in my career. He’s been a manager, a friend and more to me for a number of years. My family adore him and I get on well with all of his family like they are my own. It’s weird not playing for him but it had to come to an end sometime and I’m so pleased he’s doing well at the next stage of his career at Gillingham. He’ll go on to manage in the premiership for sure and probably manage Tottenham, and you can quote that.
What was it like scoring in the Conference Play-Off Final?
Scoring in the Play-Off Final is something that will live with me forever. It is still like a blur, whenever I see the goal I get goose bumps. I am so happy I got the chance to help Newport get back in the Football League after 25 years of being out of it.
How did you prepare for such a big game at Wembley?
I prepared for the final like any other, I was relaxed, I prefer the big stages, the nice pitches, and big crowds and they are the reasons why I play football.
After a successful start at your new club, Forest Green Rovers, how do you feel the season will go?
We’ve had an amazing start and all we can do is keep giving our all and see where we end up. The aim is obviously promotion, so anything less in my eyes is failure. That’s why I signed.
What’s it like playing with Jon Parkin?
Parks has ridiculous ability, he has such good feet for a big man and scores ridiculous goals every day in training. We complement each other quite well. So hopefully it can help us find glory come May.
As a Lincoln City fan myself I loved watching Delano Sam-Yorke. How has he settled into the Forest Green Side with the fellow new boys?
Sam’s a great player, he has got pace, an eye for goal and a terrific work ethic, he is a coaches dream. He gets on well with all the lads too, but probably gets hammered more than the banter he dishes out (usually about his receding hairline or trampoline first touch) haha.
How do you compare the Football League to the Conference?
There’s not much difference between the two and the league positions of the promoted sides usually proves that. We (Newport) finished 9th after gaining promotion and should have really made the play-offs and we would have if Justin hadn’t of left, that I’m certain of. But the attacking players are better in League Two, that’s what I’ve noticed the most out of anything.
Finally, who was your inspiration growing up?
Growing up as a youth player at Derby and being a centre midfielder back then my inspiration without a doubt was Paul Gascoigne!!!!
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