Conor Pepper: From Glentoran to Linfield via Scotland

You signed for Linfield FC in 2020. How are you enjoying your time at the club so far and how would you describe a club such as Linfield FC?

From the minute I walked through the door. I knew what a big club Linfield was and the expectations that were demanded of all the players and all the players were really good and I saw that straight away.

I obviously met the manager David Healy before I signed and we were also playing in Europe this season as well and we got a couple of trips away and that settled everything down a lot and I got to spend around 12 – 16 hours a day with everyone and I saw my teammates and coaches at breakfast, lunch and dinner and that kind of sped up the process of having to join a new club and everything has been perfect. We have made a decent start to the league season and I am really looking forward to the next few years of my career and I am enjoying life at Linfield FC.

You transferred to Linfield FC from their fierce rivals Glentoran FC. Given the size of both clubs and the strength of the rivalry was it a difficult transfer to make?

Yes, Both clubs are known as the big two in Belfast and not many players really move from one to the other directly although they may end up there later on in their career at different times.

A couple of things were going on behind the scenes at Glentoran FC and I had made the decision that I was probably going to leave anyway. I had a good couple of offers during the summer and I had spoke to a number of managers but just with the size of the club and seeing Linfield FC up close when I was playing against them and seeing how the club is run and also speaking to other players it was an opportunity that I really did not want to turn down.

I certainly did not take the decision lightly because I knew what was going to come with it once the transfer went through and the following weeks with fans and things like that and it was tough but now I am over that hump and having starting the league well my decision has been justified already and now it is up to me to prove that I deserve to be here and play a part in the continuous success that the club has had.

You played three seasons for Greenock Morton in Scotland. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any highlights and special memories?

Credit: Greenock Telegraph

Yes, I had a great time at Greenock Morton. The whole squad was very young and we got put together after the club got relegated and a new manager in Jim Duffy came in and he had a big influence in my career.

I got on really well with my teammates and it was easy to settle in and because it was all new and the boys got together quite quickly and we won the league in our first season and going on to play in the Scottish Championship playing against some big teams such as Hibernian FC, Rangers FC and Hearts of Midlothian.

We were playing in a really competitive league and it was a great experience for me as a youngster to get first team starts and play games in such big stadiums such as Ibrox and Easter Road and that massively aided my development as a player.

I played regularly for 18 months and then the next 18 months was the start of my knee injury and I never kicked another ball for the club but what I will never forget at Greenock Morton is the manager Jim Duffy and how he handled everything with me and that is where I took my first steps into coaching with the reserves because there was a crossover with managers. I was only 21 years old and I’m grateful to Jim Duffy.

I was injured and starting my coaching badges due to my knee injury and it was nice to do things like that and get my head around coaching. it also looks great of my CV to have coached like that at such a young age and for Jim Duffy to have the trust in me that I was going to go through that and do my work properly and make sure that everything was going right showed a lot as to what he thought about my character.

You have accrued great experience at club level in Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as being capped by the Republic of Ireland at youth international level, could you say who are among the best players you have played alongside so far in your career?

Credit: Ben Sutherland

I was lucky enough when I was part of the Republic of Ireland youth international team and we had a lot of good players such as Darragh Lenihan current Blackburn Rovers vice captain and Jack Grealish joined us for a while as well and he was a year below me but he came to play with us and those types of guys would even stand out in training everyday and they are also going on to have really top careers now which is great.

When I went to Inverness Caledonian Thistle we had the two Shinnie brothers in Andrew who is now on loan at Charlton Athletic and Graeme Shinnie is at Derby County and they are two great guys both on and off the pitch and they are both real hard workers and also really nice people two as well as being top players.

Since I have come to Northern Ireland a lot of players have surprised me because many players have played outside of Northern Ireland already and returned. There is a guy playing in front of me at Linfield now in Kirk Millar and I have been very impressed with him. I think he is one of the best players in the league.

Credit: Linfield Football Club

Navid Nasseri who came with me from Glentoran FC he has a good pedigree and has also played youth international football Iran and he also played for Gillingham FC over in England and he has a bit of quality about him as well.

I can imagine in your position as a defender and midfielder that you have come up against some very good opponents so far in your career, could you say which opponents have stood out for you in terms of talent and ability?

I think we have all had good and bad days against different players at times and one player who always stood out to me even though I was poor on the day.

Oduwa has now signed for Dundalk. Credit: Dundalk football club

The day I am referring to is when we played Rangers FC at home and Nathan Oduwa who is currently playing for Dundalk FC he gave me a torrid time that day and although he has been around and has played in different countries and that day I was playing left back and he was playing right midfield and Rangers FC were a good side at the time and Mark Warburton was their manager at the time.

I just remember Nathan Oduwa being a big, powerful boy who was quick and he also had a trick and he could go inside and outside and I just never really got a hold of him that day and I also remember that game was live on TV and my Dad gave me a bit of a grilling but it was one of those days where no matter what I did I could not get near him and that match and his performance stands out for me the most.

Finally Conor you mentioned Jim Duffy, could you say which coaches and managers have meant a lot to you and played a key role in your development as a professional footballer?

Credit: W. L. Tarbert

Terry Butcher brought me to Inverness Caledonian Thistle when I was a kid at 17 years old of age and he was the first manager to give me a chance in professional football moving from Ireland to go straight to the SPL and I am always going to be in debt to Terry for giving me my chance in football.

I could not say in words how much of a man that Jim Duffy is and how much he meant to me with what I was going through at the time. I had basically retired and I was going into his office crying my eyes out at different times and just how he managed me and to then get me into coaching. I could sit here and talk about him all day and all night for what he did for me in my career to even get me back to this point is massive.

As a coach I am up to my A license now and learning from Jim Duffy who has had some career himself as a manager. He was assistant manager at Portsmouth FC and Norwich City and John Terry even has a bit in his book about him from when he was coming through at Chelsea FC as Jim was Chelsea FC reserve manager and John Terry actually said how much of a difference Jim Duffy made to him when he was coming through and then every single player that you ever speak to always speak highly of him.

He suffered a heart attack recently and he is managing Dumbarton FC in Scottish League One and just seeing the outpour on twitter just told you everything you needed to know about the man and even through he had such an unbelievable career he really knows his stuff and had so much success in how people spoke about him as a human being just tells you all you need to know.

I had been injured then for two and a half year and no club really wanted to touch me as I had not kicked a ball for 28 months and were asking how much they could trust the knee injury and Ronnie McFarland at Glentoran FC gave me that chance and gave me a six month contract to come in and prove myself to see if I could make the grade. Ronnie ended up getting sacked as a manager but I still stay in really close contact with him and it is another sentimental thing where he gave me a chance back in football and I will always be in debt to him for that.

Credit: Lee Sie

With David Healy now I signed for Linfield FC because I really liked him and what he had to say and I look forward to hopefully building up a good relationship with the manager because so far in my career it has been good sailing with most of them.

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