Harrogate Railway must 'bottle the pain' of play-off loss and use it as motivation for tilt at the title
Among the favourites for relegation at the start of the 2021/22 campaign, the Starbeck club surpassed all expectations by finishing fourth in the table.
O’Connell’s men then went on to beat Brigg Town 2-1 away from home in their play-off semi-final, leaving them one more win away from a return to the Premier Division.
But, despite twice fighting back from a goal down, the Rail would eventually go on to lose 3-2 to after conceding late on at Ferriby.
The nature of their defeat has left a sour taste in O’Connell’s mouth with the Irishman left furious by three key decisions on the day.
Firstly, Dan McDaid saw what would have been a first-half equaliser ruled out for a “non-existent foul” on the home goalkeeper, before Railway were denied what the Irishman insists was a “stonewall” penalty for handball at 1-1.
In the closing stages of what was a gripping encounter, match-winner Niall Tilsley was then allowed to get away with what O’Connell insists was a clear foul in the act of heading home Ferriby’s all-important third goal.
And, while there is nothing that can be done to change the outcome of the biggest game in the Station View club’s recent history, Rail’s manager wants to use the sense of injustice he and his players have had to contend with to motivate them going forwards.
“As I have said, the referee’s performance was completely unacceptable in my opinion and we had lads in tears in the dressing room after the game because the officials have cost us a match that I believe we played well enough to have won,” O’Connell told the Harrogate Advertiser.
“It was tough to take and it was hard for me to see the lads so upset. They put absolutely everything into that game and didn’t deserve what’s happened to them.
“But, what I have told them we have to do is use that hurt as a motivation to go and try and win the league next season instead.
“We need to bottle the pain, learn from the experience and then build on what we’ve achieved. The aim next year has to be to go one better.”
Railway ended 2021/22 with 26 wins and five draws to their name from their 40 regular-season fixtures.
Joining play-off winners Ferriby in the Premier Division next term will be Hallam, who were promoted as champions.