MARK Connolly was held in such high regard at Rhyl that one fan came forward to pay his wages when it looked like cash problems would see him leave for Colwyn Bay last season.
But having missed out on signing the all-action midfielder once, Neil Young wasn’t going to be denied a second time when he left the Seagulls and took over as Chester FC boss in May.
Connolly became one of the first players to pledge his future to Young’s exciting new era at the Deva Stadium – and he can’t wait to begin the next phase of his career after five happy years with Rhyl.
The 26-year-old said: “When I go across that white line I always give 110%. I play for Chester now and I will be giving it everything I’ve got for Chester.
“If you look at my past record and if you ask around Rhyl or in the Welsh Premier League, they will tell you I work hard, and if you work hard you get your rewards, like I did last year.
“I just can’t wait for the season to get going.”
Connolly looked to be leaving Rhyl in January of this year when the club’s financial problems came to light following the departure of main backer Peter Parry. With the Lilywhites struggling to pay wages, players were free to find new clubs.
The popular Connolly did not want to leave but, with a young family to support, he had little choice and accepted an offer from Colwyn Bay, then managed by Blues boss Young.
The final twist came just as he thought he had played his last match for Rhyl, when a mystery fan agreed to pay his wages for the rest of the season as reward for the loyalty and commitment he had shown to the Lilywhites.
“That was an amazing gesture and I think I showed my commitment in the second half of the season with my goal ratio, scoring 30 goals,” said Connolly.
“Now I want to do the same for the Chester fans.”
The midfielder knows that playing for clubs at non-league level is about more than training and playing matches. He is willing to help out off the field, putting in an appearance at Chester’s 125th anniversary celebration while also modelling the club’s new kit when it was launched in July.
He said: “When I went to the anniversary do at Chester Racecourse, it was nice to meet them and let them know who I am and what I’m about.
“I’m not one of those players who just like to turn up, play and go home. I like to get involved and I think on that night the fans raised more than £10,000 for the club.
“I was really blown away. I just hope all the fans keep coming back as things have changed at the club.”
Connolly, who has also played for Bangor City, is a set-piece specialist who earned the nickname ‘Conaldo’ when he was at Rhyl due to his deadly free-kicks.
The midfielder, who works for Mercedes-Benz in their road range commercials department in Deeside, has also played representative football for the British Universities team.
After slow start to his pre-season campaign, Blues fans have recently seen plenty of glimpses of why he was so popular at Rhyl.