Conor Pepper programme article

Posted : 23rd April 2022

In conversation with ‘Look at Linfield’, defender Conor Pepper believes this season’s Irish League title race will go down to the wire and the Blues must maintain their performance levels for the final two home matches of this fiercely competitive league campaign.

“I said after the Glentoran game, before Cliftonville drew with Larne the following day, that the league wasn’t over and that we need our fans to keep turning up, following us and getting right behind us, as they’ve been brilliant. For us as players and as a team, we simply have to keep doing the right things, staying focused and see where that takes us in the next week or two.

“I thought we were going to get a winner against Glentoran. They didn’t have a shot in the second half. Marron cleared one off the line from Kyle McClean, Jake Hastie was also denied by a good save and we had a lot of crosses which didn’t quite fall for us but we thought we were going to score. We had chances against Cliftonville as well, so performances generally have been good. I don’t like the formula that we have to play Cliftonville in the split first as Glentoran can benefit from that, then we have to play Glentoran and again Cliftonville can benefit from that – and then they play each-other at the end of the season… one of them may have nothing to play for by then.

Anyway, the lads were absolutely brilliant to get the win at Seaview against the Crues on Tuesday night. It was a nervy watch but I believe the lads can go and produce the goods against Larne who will be tough opponents after their scoreless draws at Solitude and the Oval. They are gathering momentum for the play offs.”

It’s been a stop-start season for the 27-year-old full-back. A shoulder injury early in the season kept him out for the first half of the season and since returning, his legs have found it tough. Conor missed Tuesday’s trip to Seaview and may again miss out today.

“Ever since returning from the shoulder injury I still feel like I am yet to get my legs underneath me, in the sense that I am picking up little niggles and am having some aches. I had six months out, came in and played a couple of games against Larne and Glentoran and then picked up an injury away to Carrick Rangers. I then missed another month because of that, but I think getting thrown back into games of that magnitude was tough on the body.

“I was glad when I returned in time to try and help in the run-in. Once I returned, I was thrown back in again against Cliftonville and Glentoran and it’s probably a good thing I have got experience behind me, whereas if you were maybe a younger lad and the only right back, you’d be trying to survive in that environment. I am loud in the dressing room and with experience, I feel I know how to get through matches, even if I am carrying a knock or whatever, I can use my brain to do what’s needed. Our main focus is just to win our remaining games and see where we are. That’s all we are focused on because they’re tough games. I want to play in these matches; it’s why you come to Linfield, so to be sitting in the stands watching can be very frustrating. You want to be challenging for trophies as a player and the club expects and demands that too.”

Conor’s career has been a roller-coaster, with plenty of highs and character-building lows, For example, he was out for two years with an injury and feared his career was over at 21 years old. He also scored on his Inverness CT debut against Hearts, as well as winning a few league titles, so he knows how to deal with different scenarios and he believes this is why he’s got the nod from David Healy for the crucial post-split derby fixtures that ended in draws against Cliftonville and Glentoran.

“We signed Michel Parker in January and he’s a good player who can play in defence or in midfield. He’s playing well in training but it’s just a bit hard to make your way into a winning team and perhaps at this stage of the season in a title race, you go with players who have experienced it before. I’m sure that’s tough because every player wants to play but if you were in September and there were other Cup matches then he’d get that chance. It maybe comes to my advantage that I am that bit more experienced and have been at the club a while that I can come back and play, whereas Michel doesn’t have that luxury, but he’s a good lad who trains well.

“I won a league in Scotland with Greenock Morton and the ‘Double’ with Linfield last year. I have experienced a lot of different things in my career, I played in the SPL as a kid, I’ve had time out of the game and I have done some coaching, so I feel I’ve had good grounding and all those experiences help you when you’re in a tense run-in like this. It’s something I’ve always thought I could bring to the dressing room; I’ve good character and that’s why the manager gave me a new two-year contract without kicking a ball this season. I just want to do as much as I can for this football club; I would never cheat the players, I would never cheat the manager and I would never cheat this football club, so everything I do every single day is to help us and I hope that brings trophies.”

Best wishes to Conor and his team mates in today's huge Premiership game against in form Larne and good luck also to Conor as he continues to develop as a coach alongside Jamie Mulgrew with the young Linfield Rangers squad.
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