INTERVIEW: How accident led to Connor Mahoney being two-footed, where he fits in 5-3-2 – and fighting back from injury

ELECTRIC scooters are all the rage around London these days – but there’s no chance you’ll see Connor Mahoney whizzing around the capital on one.

Mahoney hasn’t stepped on a scooter since he was six or seven, when he broke his leg flying around the streets of Blackburn.

The Lions’ million-pound signing from Bournemouth is one of the best two-footed players in the league. He can take corners from both sides off either foot, and he keeps the opposition guessing from set-pieces whether it’s going to be an in-swinger into the box or curved the other way.

He demonstrated it brilliantly in the game when he scored his first Millwall goal, against Luton on New Year’s Day 2020.

With the contest level at 1-1 in the 79th minute, Mahoney took a pass just inside the Luton half before shifting the ball between both feet as he ran at the defence and then cutting across the box on his right and smashing into the corner from 20 yards.

Three minutes later, from deep on the left flank, Mahoney spotted Matt Smith’s run at the far post and curled in a brilliant first-time cross with his left foot and the striker headed home.

In the next game, a 3-0 win against Newport in the third round of the FA Cup, Mahoney set up Smith from a corner and then scored a penalty, both with his ‘weaker’ left foot.

That ability can be traced back to that accident, and how Mahoney adapted so he could still play football despite the hindrance of a cast.

“My mum had bought me an electric scooter,” Mahoney tells NewsAtDen. “You know the one where you could press the break at the back? I did that and must have got my foot trapped in it and, yeah, broke it.

“At that age you don’t really think, ‘I’m going to be a footballer’. Obviously if it happened later [in professional football] you’d be devastated.

“But at the time I thought it was cool to have a cast. I enjoyed it.

“I came out of hospital and I’d always want to play football outside with my cast on. I used to use my left foot.

“Before I got injured I was more right-footed, I couldn’t kick with my left. Some people are more naturally two-footed but I was out practising. I wasn’t running around with the cast on, but I was passing and things like that with my brothers outside.

“If you practise, practise, practise, you just get accustomed to it.”

Connor Mahoney, left, celebrates with Jed Wallace after scoring against Luton

Mahoney has played the majority of his football for Millwall in wide positions. But in Gary Rowett’s current preferred formation of 5-3-2 there are no wingers, with the wing-backs pushing up to provide width.

Where does Mahoney see himself fitting in that formation if Rowett continues to use it?

“It’s a good question,” he says. “I’m not too sure, it’s probably something I’ll have to speak to the gaffer about, where he sees me playing in that formation if he does carry on with it.

“But, if I’m honest, I’ll play anywhere as long as I’m playing. If he wants me to play in midfield, or a false striker [off the front], as long as I’m playing I’m not bothered.

“If he sticks to that formation I’ll probably chat to him and he’ll tell me where he sees me playing.

“In training I often drift off and play in the number 10 role. It’s kind of like a false 9. I think it’s a good role to play, you’ve kind of got a bit of freedom and you can go and create, drop back in and help the midfield. I think I’d be suited to that role and if the gaffer wanted to play me there I’d be excited.”

Mahoney has had a stop-start season, twice injuring his quad meaning he was out for five months.

He felt the injury came at the worst time, last November, as he was playing well and starting regularly.

Mahoney describes how he suffered the injury to the muscle on top of his thigh.

“The gaffer named the starting line-up [before playing Cardiff] and I was in it,” Mahoney says. “We were going through set-pieces and it was literally the last kick of the session.

“I went to whip in a corner and it felt like my leg exploded. Normal quad injuries you’d do it maybe sprinting. Not a lot of players do it other than keepers striking the ball. I knew straightaway it wasn’t a good sign.

“As soon as I made contact with the ball it felt like a bomb went off. It was a feeling I’d never had before, it was scary.

“I was playing games at the time and was in form and doing well. It wasn’t a good time to do it.

“In normal times [before lockdown] you can go out and do things. But it was just going into the training ground, doing the same things every day. Going in, rehab, going home. And the next day the exact same.

“In that aspect it gets a bit repetitive. But I’m patient with it, at the end of the day it’s your job. When you go in you make sure you do the right stuff to get back as fit as you can as fast as you can.”

Connor Mahoney fires home a penalty against Newport with his ‘weaker’ left foot

Mahoney made his comeback in an under-23 game, but reinjured his quad just as he was about to complete the scheduled 45 minutes.

He continues: “In the 44th minute, I went for a sprint and I’ve felt it go again. I was coming off six or seven minutes later. The timing of that, you can’t even write it.

“It was another month or two then. It was pretty much the same rehab. The biggest thing was probably getting the confidence back. You need to be confident in yourself and your leg.

“We had so many injuries at the time. You don’t wish injury on anyone but it is harder doing the rehab on your own. It makes it that little bit better if you have other people there and you can bounce off each other and get through it together.”

The winger will have a conversation with his boss over where he fits in 5-3-2

While Mahoney was out the Lions went through a run of just one win in 15 league games. From slightly outside the group as he rehabbed, Mahoney had a good perspective of the mood of the squad and he was never worried about a relegation battle, even if he was desperate to get back to help his team-mates.

“You want to get back, but if the team are doing well they don’t need you,” Mahoney says. “If the team aren’t doing well it kind of puts the spotlight on those that are injured because if everyone was fit you’d have no excuses.

“I always thought we’ve got such a good dressing room that we’d bounce back. No one was really worried about relegation, no one mentioned that. We knew once we did get it right and stopped making the mistakes we were making we’d be fine.

“And we’ve proved that now. We moved away from the relegation zone and went to fighting to get into the top six. It just shows how quickly the season can turn around if you win two, three games on the bounce.

“You can’t get too high or low, you’ve got to try to stay in the middle. If you win, perfect, but if you lose don’t get too upset because that can have an effect. If you get too excited you can take your foot off the gas and if you get too low then confidence is going to suffer.

“You need to find that right balance.”

Image: Millwall FC 

John Kelly