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Virtual National Game Awards 2019-20: Mark Harrod Southern League Step 4 Player of the Year – Paul McCone

National Game Awards

TOP MAN: Paul McCone dominating for the Yeltz in November. Picture: Garry Griffiths/ThreeFiveThree Photography

By Neil Harvey

Paul McCone says his first season at Halesowen Town exceeded all expectations – now he’s ready to finish a job only halted by coronavirus.

The former Stourbridge and Hednesford centre-back has been a huge influence on the Yeltz team which has reached the semi-finals of the FA Trophy, as well as launched a promotion bid in Southern League Division One Central.

His leadership qualities made him the overwhelming choice as Mark Harrod Southern League Step 4 Player of the Year. Now he’s hoping to complete the fairytale – and fulfill a very bold prediction from one of the club’s coaches.

“No-one has quite been able to get their head around what we’ve achieved this year,” McCone told The NLP.

“I remember sitting on the coach for a very long journey in the Trophy early on in the season when Snapper (assistant boss John Snape) suddenly said ‘We will get to Wembley this season!’.

“We all thought he was mad, but we just kept on winning and it was only when we went to Halifax and won that we actually started to believe him.”

McCone led a Yeltz side completely re-formed from the side which lost their Step 3 status last season, but has humbly played down his influence, insisting the club is in control of their own destiny.

“Wherever I’ve gone I seem to have taken on the leader role,” said McCone, who signed a one-year contract extension with the club in March.

“I like to lead from the front but you can’t do it on your own. Halesowen, as a club, is a united front and heading in the right direction. That comes from the manager, we’ve all bought into what he’s trying to do.

“There’s a bit of unfinished business. The fans have had a rough few years, hopefully now we can get the chance to finish what we started in the FA Trophy and give them something to cheer about.”

McCone was one of manager Paul Smith’s first signings when he arrived at The Grove from local rivals Stourbridge last summer and the boss admitted the 28-year-old, who came through the ranks of Wolves as a youngster, had surpassed even his expectations.

“He’s 28 but looks about 48,” Smith joked. “It was a surprise to me that he became available in the summer. It was a real coup for us and the easiest negotiation ever.

“It wasn’t about money, he just wanted to play and he’s been instantly popular ever since he’s walked through the door. He’s been absolutely fantastic for us. A true leader of men, he has helped instil a winning mentality into the younger players.”

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Images courtesy of The Non-League Paper & Garry Griffiths/ThreeFiveThree Photography

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