Five months ago the west Belfast man parted company with the Drumahoe club who had lost their opening three fixtures in the Irish Championship, following ‘deep and personal discussions’ with club chairman Bill Anderson and the Board of Directors.
Reflecting back on what he felt went wrong during his tenure, Connor said he found it difficult to adjust to the part-time culture of the club and struggled to attract players due to financial constraints.
Despite the difficulties, Connor remains ‘proud’ of what he achieved during his short period at the club from September 2019 to August 2021 during which the club endured ‘the perfect storm’.
The onset of the Covid pandemic ultimately resulted in the club’s relegation to the Championship after a mathematical formula was used to decide the final standings in the 2019/20 Northern Ireland Football League.
The following season saw Institute go a full campaign without kicking a ball as Championship clubs were refused elite status and when the club eventually got players back on the pitch, Connor’s playing budget was significantly slashed.
Connor believes it was the right decision and ‘the right time’ for both parties to go their separate ways at the start of the current campaign as he felt he had taken the players as far as he could given the obstacles in his way.
“I remember speaking to Bill Anderson after we parted ways and it was as he described it, almost like a perfect storm,” said Connor. “We had just come off the back of Covid, a season of not playing and had seven key players out injured.
“I understand all that and for me, I struggled to sign the type of players I wanted to sign. The quality of players, for the budget that you have at Institute, just wasn’t there.
“I know exactly the type of experienced players I wanted but they’re not coming to Institute for the love of playing. So my strategy was to sign young players and upon reflection the team was probably too young to go into the Championship and too inexperienced but I did say that at the time. I knew it would take time to develop and predicted we would have a difficult year but would survive.
“Maybe with hindsight and looking at how Brian (Donaghey) has done, he probably has better local contacts than I have in terms of knowing all the players in the locality. But maybe with the standards I had from the full-time clubs I’ve worked at previously, I found it difficult to adjust to part-time football,” added the former Dundalk and Bohemians boss.
He had no regrets about how he went about his business at the club and felt he simply couldn’t have achieved any more under the circumstances.
“Looking back, I know I worked to my maximum with the support, financial and otherwise, that I was given and I don’t think I could’ve done anything any better,” he claimed.
“I think when we parted company, at the time it was the right decision. The club needed somebody to come in who was probably more used to working in that part-time environment and who had bigger contacts in and around the Derry area and therefore was able to bring in players from that locality.
“The number of players I spoke to whom I wanted to bring to the club that simply fell outside the parameters of the budget we were given, you’re talking 10 plus players who I wanted to come but wouldn’t because of the finances.
“So I think the time was right to go. I’m proud of the work I did and think I did a good job in trying to keep us in the Premier Division and that was taken outside of our control. I met some really good people during my time at Institute, in particular Sean Friars, Emmett Friars, Paul McLaughlin, Tony Blake and also Bill Anderson, the Chairman, and I wish them all the best.
“I certainly think Institute has a really difficult situation without a ground. They’ve lost a wee bit of their identity and it’s certainly difficult to attract the type of players that I wanted to attract, within their financial restraints.”
Connor took some time out to reflect on his time at Institute and where he wants his future to lie during the Christmas period and he’s eager to get back to business.
Already he’s been on the shortlist for two full-time posts and while he awaits his next opportunity, he admits he is willing to travel outside Ireland in pursuit of his next challenge.
“Certainly my break from the game wasn’t needed. I think my break from the frustrations at Institute was needed but I didn’t need a break from the game. I just felt the vision I had and how
I wanted to move forward probably wasn’t the way they wanted to go forward so there was no point in batting heads over that. It’s a very unique situation there and they probably just needed more of that local input which I just couldn’t give.
“This time it has to be the right opportunity in terms of the financial support and the other support around the club which gives me a chance to compete which is what I want to do. I’m not going to rush into another Institute situation. I had a couple of discussions with people maybe six weeks ago but it wasn’t quite right.
"I don’t think I would be interested in going into that part-time survival model that you would have at Institute. I would rather bide my time and with the body of work and experience I have, hopefully it will eventually open the doors for a full-time club or certainly a club that has a desire to compete with the full-time clubs.
“I do realise that for me to get that opportunity I may have to step outside, not just the Irish League, but step outside Ireland. I’ve done that before and I’m willing to do that again.
“I think I do have plenty to offer the game. If you look at my CV, really Institute was the first part-time club I managed and therefore I certainly struggled making that adaptation and I don’t think I would rush back to that sort of model again. But I think there’s enough opportunities out there and my CV shows that if I’m put in the right environment with a decent budget and good support then I can be successful.
“I think I’m a better manager than I was maybe 10, 12 or 15 years ago when I started out because I have much more experience. I spent that time back in university studying, I constantly reflect on what I’ve done, what was good, what was bad.
“I’m still keeping my finger on the pulse in terms of the League of Ireland and Irish League and I’m looking at opportunities and looking to get back into a role in either league or even in a role as a Technical Director or Director of Football. I’m active in my pursuit of a job and hopefully the right one comes around in the near future.”