Further Info: Sold to Wigan for a club record £240-000 on 01/08/1993. Son in Law of Wilfred Smith.
Gary Connolly by Dave Dooley:
Gary Connolly was signed as a loacl seventeen year old from Blackbrook ARL Club with a well-earned reputation as one of the brightest prospects in the game. He went straight into the team for his debut against Hull KR on the 22nd of January, 1989 and immediately impressed the Knowsley Road crowd with his sheer speed, safe hands and tremendous tackling technique. Saints prevailed by 29 points to nil that day and Gary was off to a winning start. He was slotted into the Saints` team at full back and immediately provided a much more secure feel to the defensive line. His only try in 13 outings for the club in his initial campaign was against Oldham as part of a 58 points to 12 home league victory. One of his most memorable matches came in the Rugby League Challenge Cup semi-final against Widnes on March 11th. 1989 when Saints prevailed in one of the best and closet semi-final matches of all time by 16 points to 14. Les Quirk scored a brace of spectacular tries but equally as stunning were the series of last ditch tackles that Gary made on Widnes players as they were about to cross the Saints` tryline. In particular the flier Martin Offiah was denied several times in the left hand corners of Central Park. However, Gary and the Saints had a Saints had a miserable end to the season finishing seventh in the league and being whitewashed by the old enemy Wigan at Wembley.
In the 1989/90 season Gary bagged the full back spot as Phil Veivers moved into centres. The experimentation with player combinations continued in the 1989/90 season with the team playing no fewer than 36 players over the campaign. Although ending up close to the top of the league as the highest scorers, some inconsistencies were denying the team of the big prizes. Gary touched down three times against Featherstone Rovers, Dewsbury and Hull as Saints ended the season as top points scorers in the league but losing form towards the end of the campaign. Once again the Knowsley Road trophy cabinet remained empty.
In the following season (1990-91) as the Saints rattled up the points again unfortunately the side was defensively stretched in many games and 11 losses in the league left Cooper`s men in sixth position. Very often Gary was left with the unenviable position of having to cover line break after line break. Connolly was a bystander in the fabulous 19 points to 2 semi-final win over Widnes in the Challenge Cup semi-final. Yet again Saints fell at the final hurdle as Wigan held on to a handy half time lead to prevail by 13 points to 8 in the 1991 Challenge Cup Final at Wembley. On that day Gary was on the substitutes bench as Mike McClennan desperately searched for a winning combination against the old enemy. Many felt that Wigan were there for the taking on that day and this made the club even more determined to bring some silverware to Knowsley Road.
Gary`s ambition for silverware was soon fulfilled in the following campaign (1991-92) as Connolly and the Saints had a blinder against Wigan in the Lancashire Cup semi-final with Gary scoring a vital try as Saints prevailed by 28 points to 16. Mike McClennan had moved Gary into the centres and he was revelling in the role. Ten days later the Saints went on to record a 24 points to 14 win over Rochdale Hornets in the Lancashire Cup Final at Warrington. Gary had collected his first winner`s medal with the Saints. He scored eight braces of tries against Halifax, Bradford, Trafford Borough, Hull, Widnes (twice) and Leeds (twice) out of a haul of 22 tries over the full campaign. Connolly had found his niche and Saints had assembled a set of speedy backs including Gary, Hunte, Sullivan, Ropati and Loughlin. The side also settled down that season and finished a comfortable second position in the league but still somewhat adrift from Wigan at the top.
Gary`s sparkling form had been recognised by the international selectors and he was rewarded in t he summer of 1992 with selection for the Australasian Tour alongside tea-mates Hunte, Loughlin and Nickle. Later in the year he would feature in the Great Britain side that were defeated so narrowly by Australia at Wembley in the World Cup Final.
In the 1992/3 season Gary gave one of his finest displays in the Boxing Day match against Wigan in 1992. He was supporting all over the pitch as Saints whipped the boys from Wigan by a fabulous score-line of 41 points to 6. Everyone felt that the balance of power was finally shifting westwards over Billinge Lump after that game but at the end of the season Saints lost out to Wigan on points difference at the top of the table following an 8 points all drawn match at Central Park. Some consolation came however in the last match of the season as the Saints thoroughly deserved their1993 Premiership Final win over Wigan by 10 points to 4. Gary demonstrated his full repertoire of skills in that match when he scooped up a tricky ball in the wet and plunged over for a vital first half try. This proved to be Gary`s last try for the club as he had been offered a 60% wage increase to join the team that had denied him in so many competitions to date - Wigan. Within a year he had won every honour in the game and Wigan`s gain was a great blow to the team building at Knowsley Road. In 133 appearances Gary Connolly scored 46 tries.
Gary continued to develop into a complete player and continued to play well into the 21st century becoming a backbone in the Wigan backs as they challenged for honours in the Super league era. In the twilight of his career Gary had playing spells with Leeds and Widnes.
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