Blue Square Bet
Published 2nd June 2012
Rival teams will turn out at Stockport County’s Edgeley Park ground next season and will already be beaten before the first ball has been kicked, says Hatters` captain Danny O’Donnell.
O’Donnell, who has just committed himself to the Blue Square Bet Premier outfit for at least another season-long campaign, says the combination of the fans’ passion and manager Jim Gannon’s enthusiasm and detailed preparation for each game is the secret weapon which transformed the last third of the club’s first year in the Conference.
“The County fans are unbelievable - the best I’ve had the fortune to play in front of,” he says.
“We also have a manager whose infectious confidence rubs off on the players and who does his homework and prepares us in minute detail for every single opponent – I’ve never known a team so well prepared for games,” he says as he explains why the Hatters’ new approach to footballing success is about to pay serious dividends for a team which, just a few short months ago, was staring a third consecutive relegation squarely in the face.
O’Donnell feels the weight of responsibility possibly more than any other player at the club. Not only is he the club captain but he is also, at 26, one of just two ‘old heads’ among the ranks of youth which now fill Jim Gannon’s transformed team-sheet.
“Me and Joe Connor are both 26 and by far the oldest players at the club,” O`Donnell says.
“I sometimes feel like I am in a completely different generation. But we all get on really well and the boss knows that he may need our experience to provide balance to this young team he is building.”
There is a sense of togetherness in the squad now that O’Donnell notes was sorely missing at the start of the last campaign, during the dark days before Jim Gannon returned and started the blue and white revolution which has transformed the club’s fortunes on and off the field.
There is a palpable sense of new hope rattling around the old corridors of Edgeley Park these days and it’s something which O’Donnell says has not gone un-noticed by everyone connected with the club.
The team, too, is dancing to a new tune. Conducted by Jim Gannon, it’s far more ‘Land of Hope & Glory’ than the downbeat funeral march soundtrack which seems to have been playing on loop around the ground for the last two campaigns.
This new Stockport County is built around a ‘band of brothers’ ethic and, much like the legendary Major Richard Winters – also just 26 when he led the 101st Airbourne Division’s ‘Easy’ Company with such distinction during WWII – O’Donnell sees it has his job to take this band of fresh faced footballers into battle by setting an example and leading from the front.
“There are no bad eggs in this squad,” O’Donnell says matter-of-factly. “We have a strong camaraderie now which wasn’t there before Jim Gannon came back half way through last season.
“There has been a huge turnover of players since the boss came back and those new players, all brought here because they are good footballers but also share the gaffer’s values, have massively helped team spirit.
“It is so much more relaxed in the changing room now and, with Alan Lord in place as assistant – a man who has the same attention to detail as the gaffer – we are all really excited for the new season.”
O’Donnell’s job, now he has recovered from the injury which put paid to the best part of his season last term, is to rally those young troops and be Gannon’s most trusted lieutenant.
“I see it as my responsibility to be a leader both on the pitch and off,” he says.
“Me and Joe, being the most senior in the squad, have to set a good example. And that includes on the training ground. The training sessions towards the end of last season, with all these new young lads in the squad, were really lively that has been great fun for everyone involved.
“Me and Joe, on the pitch, can use that bit of experience we have to guide the younger lads, put an arm around their shoulder when needed. We can also set an example off the pitch by showing respect to others.
“I am very proud to be Stockport County’s captain and it is not lost on me how important it is to conduct myself in the right way. I have a responsibility not just to the younger players in the team but also to the fans and the kids on the street.”
That message – that the team’s role in the community is as vital as their one on match days - is one that has been hammered home by Gannon since he returned to the club mid-campaign last season.
And the players have been made fully aware what a difference it can make to their performances with the fans and the community fully behind them.
“The fans had every right to have a go at us on many occasions last season but, to be honest, they didn’t really. The atmosphere at Edgeley Park has been fantastic. The whole team is plugged in to what it means to the fans.
“As players, if you go and do some work in the community as we have been doing, you can see it has a tremendous effect. It really has brought everyone closer. We know the fans kick every single ball.
“I think now it means everything to the players too – whereas at times earlier last season there were occasions where it clearly didn’t.
“I was in the changing room at the end of the home game against Cambridge last season after we’d lost in front of a large home crowd. The gaffer made that exact point to us all and it was clear everyone realised just how special the fans were after that game. It was the turning point for this team.
“Now there is a real feel-good factor about the place. This is a completely different side and everyone can’t wait to get cracking for the start of next season.
“It is quite possible that we could be knocking on the door of the play-offs next season, we all believe that and we will be going into the new season with big optimism.
“There are some high profile teams in the league next year but our success, if it comes, will be built on hard work.
“Much of how well we do as a team will be down to the start we make to the season, the way that the fans feed off those performances and the players response to that support.
“When 4,000 - 4,500 fans are behind us at Edgeley Park the whole team feeds off that. Teams will turn up here, feel that support, and will already be beaten.”
Major Richard Winters once said in response to a question from his grandson, many years after WWII had ended: “I am not a hero but I served in a company of heroes.”
Danny O’Donnell is hoping that next season may give him the opportunity to use that quote in front of a packed Edgeley Park as the club finally secures its return to the Football League.