AFC Bournemouth under-18 coach Alan Connell says he owes a huge debt of gratitude to Sean O’Driscoll for giving him his big break in professional football.
O’Driscoll, one of only four players to have made more than 400 league appearances for the club, handed Connell his first contract during his time as manager at Dean Court.
The young striker, a trainee at Tottenham and Ipswich, had just turned 19 when he was offered a trial by O’Driscoll before putting pen to paper on the deal in July 2002.
O’Driscoll handed Connell his debut just weeks later with the frontman going on to hit seven goals in eight games to become the most prolific teenage striker in the country.
He helped O’Driscoll’s team win promotion from League Two in 2003 before returning to the club for a second spell and featuring as Eddie Howe guided the Cherries back into League One in 2010.
Connell was speaking to afcb.co.uk ahead of the Cherries’ Merit League One clash against Portsmouth at Canford Park Arena on Saturday (11am kick-off).
O’Driscoll was appointed head of coaching and learning for the Pompey academy in March 2019 and is expected to be alongside youth team boss Liam Daish when the sides lock horns.
“I was scouted by Mike Corderoy when I was at Ipswich and invited for a trial in March 2002,” said Connell, who is in his third season as coach of the under-18s.
“I played a few games for the reserves and was absolutely delighted when I was offered my first professional contract.
“Sean gave me my chance in first-team football and showed a lot of faith in me as a young player. Had it not been for him, I might not have had the career I was fortunate to have.
“When you’re a player, you probably don’t think like a coach. I wish I had taken a bit more notice at that time and maybe looked at things from their perspective a little more.
“Sean opened my eyes to taking responsibility on the pitch. He always made players think why they were doing things and not just doing it for the sake of it.
“He wanted intelligent footballers, and still does, and I think that suited the way I was as a player. He definitely broadened my horizons.
“AFC Bournemouth has always been known for playing good, attractive football and Sean was very much part of that process during his time as manager of our first team.”
The Cherries opened their Merit League One campaign with a 3-2 victory over Stevenage five days ago while Pompey’s curtain-raiser at Swindon was postponed.
In the EFL Youth Alliance, Connell’s team drew 1-1 with the Hampshire outfit in August and triumphed 9-1 against them at Dorchester’s Avenue Stadium last month.
Connell added: “We played very well against them in early January but that result will have no bearing on this game.
“We know how competitive they are and I’m sure they will be looking to put on a good performance against us so it’s important we are ready for whatever they throw at us.
“I’m sure it will be a good spectacle and a good opportunity for both sets of players to go head to head.”
Connell said he would make a late call on his team selection with some players possibly being involved in the Cherries’ Premier League Cup game against Southampton tomorrow and others maybe being on duty with their respective loan clubs.
He added: “I have faith in all the players and whatever team we put out, we will be competitive and will look to implement our style of play on the game.
“A big part of football is taking your opportunities when they come along. If we bring in players, hopefully they will perform and take their chance.”
Goals from Euan Pollock and Khavarn Williams, coupled with a Matt Burgess penalty, saw the Cherries under-17s triumph 3-1 against their Fulham counterparts on Tuesday.