Mark Connolly spoke to Alex Stedman for this interview, which appeared in last Friday's programme against Cheltenham Town.
Having plied his trade at the club before, Mark Connolly is both well placed and well versed when asked about the progress Reds have made since he arrived for his second spell in July.
At the time of writing, following last weekend’s last-gasp defeat to Plymouth Argyle, the Reds sit in 18th position in Sky Bet EFL Two with five games to play – and the 25-year-old is honest in his assessment of the campaign as it enters the final straight.
“I think it’s been a season of ups and downs, but the biggest thing for me is the fact that we’ve signed over 20 new players and it was always going to be a year to gel,” he said. “I think we could have probably achieved more and as players there have certainly been times where we’ve all felt we could have done better but we’ve also got to be realistic.
“But there’s a good feeling around the club again and that’s a massive thing for me. I think on and off the pitch we’re trying to improve. The club understand where they need to strengthen both on and off the pitch, and that’s so important. We know now what we need to do to progress and I think next season will be one where we can really push on and make a go of it. That’s going to be the one – we’ll be more judged on next season in my opinion, especially as most of the lads will still be here and there won’t be a big change in the personnel of the squad.”
The Irishman first joined the club on the crest of a wave when they had been promoted to League One and when asked about expectation and infrastructure he’s refreshingly honest about what he’s found since coming back south after two years in Scotland with Kilmarnock.
“The Crawley fans stick behind the team, but the biggest thing is that they had got used to success,” he said. “That’s purely because of the fact that when I was here the first time the club was rising up through the leagues very quickly. We finished just outside the play-offs in League One when I was here before and expectations probably went up a lot because of that.
“But if I’m being totally honest the club feels a lot more secure now than before. It’s a much happier place and I really do think the club is on the up because we’re doing things in the right way on and off the field. Things have been done very well and the manager has been brilliant with everyone – the fans, staff and everyone off the pitch.
“As a fan when you pay your money you come and naturally want to see your team win every week but sometimes you might have to take a step back and see the bigger picture – teams like Leyton Orient put that sort of thing into perspective for me.”
In a campaign where winning runs have sometimes been hard to secure, the former Wolves and Bolton man knows that finding that consistent level of performance is pivotal to do well in such a competitive and relentless division.
“We’re definitely going in the direction. I think consistency is so vital across the board – we have to be consistent in what we do. Even for myself, looking to next season and the last few games, that’s what we will have to strive for.
“To progress as a team it’s so key, there’s ability in abundance in our squad and you can see it every day in training so it’s about making the most of what we have every game.
“It’s difficult though because there are so many matches, we’ve had injuries at key times and some have played a lot of games. But for next season to push up the league consistency will be key.
“I’ve played 40-plus games this season which has been nice and now the aim is to replicate that and push up the table next year.
If selected this afternoon the defender will make his 42nd appearance in all competitions for Dermot Drummy’s men – a measure of his importance to the side.
They say never go back, but with the Irishman’s buoyancy, honesty and openness seemingly reflected off the pitch as well Conns – who gets married this summer – may well have made a shrewd decision in coming back to Crawley.