Former Mansfield Town and Newport County star Aaron O’Connor hoping to see the Welsh underdogs reach Wembley

Aaron O'Connor of Newport County celebrates scoring a goal during the Blue Square Bet Premier Conference Play-off Final between Wrexham and Newport County A.F.C  at Wembley Stadium on May 5, 2013.
Aaron O'Connor of Newport County celebrates scoring a goal during the Blue Square Bet Premier Conference Play-off Final between Wrexham and Newport County A.F.C at Wembley Stadium on May 5, 2013.

Former Mansfield Town and Newport County striker Aaron O’Connor is hoping the current Newport County AFC stars can match the class of 2013 and triumph at Wembley this month.

The Exiles host Mansfield Town in the first leg of their League Two play-off semi-final at Rodney Parade tomorrow night (7.45pm) and Mansfield, who beat the Welsh club 3-0 at Field Mill on the first day of the season back in August, are the favourites to progress to the final.

The Stags have won eight, drawn two and lost two of the 12 meetings between the sides since both were promoted six years ago.

And County have only ever won twice in Mansfield – in January 1939 and August 2012.

But on both occasions it turned out to be a promotion-winning season.

O’Connor, who now works as a teacher in Mansfield, was on the score sheet as Justin Edinburgh’s men triumphed 4-3 at Field Mill on the opening day of the 2012-2013 campaign.

“I remember it well,” said the striker, who played alongside current County boss Michael Flynn that season.

“It was the opening day and Mansfield had spent big.

“They were the favourites to go up and we were one of the favourites to go down.

“But we managed to get the win and it was a bit of a catalyst for us that season.

“It gave us the belief that we could compete against the best teams in the division.”

County went on to complete the league double over Mansfield later that season, but it was the Stags who sealed automatic promotion.

The Exiles joined them in returning to the Football League as O’Connor and Christian Jolley scored the goals to beat Wrexham in the play-off final.

“Going up at Wembley is the best way to do it,” said the 35-year-old, who has just helped Kettering Town to win promotion to the Conference North.

“You have to wait a bit longer to go on holiday, but the buzz and the excitement of those extra three games gave us an added boost.

“And that momentum helped us the following year in League Two.

“And I know that Newport only just stayed up by the skin of their teeth the other year, but they are going really well under Flynny now.

“They are an established Football League club now and I’d be very surprised to see them back in non-league football any time soon.

“I never really thought of Flynny becoming a manager when I played with him, but he has done an incredible job since he took over.

“No disrespect to Graham Westley, but I dread to think where the club would be now if he hadn’t been sacked when he was.”

Nottingham-born O’Connor played for nearby Mansfield in the 2008/2009 season, but he insists he has no split loyalties ahead of the semi-final.

“I’m actually working as a supply teacher at a school in Mansfield at the moment and the kids are all saying they didn’t want to play Newport,” he said.

“I’ve been winding them up, telling them they’re going to lose.

“Mansfield are gutted not to go up automatically and it will be a big job for them to pick themselves up.

“Nobody expected Newport to make it to the play-offs and they have got all the momentum going into it.

“It’ll be tough, because Mansfield have got a good side, but I’m hoping Flynny, Pipey, Robbie and Keanu (Marsh-Brown), who I know from Forest Green, can do it.”

He won’t be at the games this week, but O’Connor would love to see County celebrating at Wembley again on 25th May.

“I came to the Wrexham FA Cup replay before Christmas, which was great,” he said.

“And I’ve been invited to the semis but I can’t make it as I’m away this weekend on Mark Byrne’s stag do.

“But I’ll definitely be there if they make it to Wembley.”