Connell Rawlinson says his ‘heart will always be here’ after signing a new two-year contract at Meadow Lane.
The 31-year-old defender committed his future to us earlier today and, having arrived at the beginning of our National League journey, takes great satisfaction from the prospect of life in League Two.
“I’m over the moon,” he said. “It was a no-brainer for me – I was never looking to go anywhere else.
“I’m lucky to have played for such a great club over the last four years and I’m so grateful and happy to have experienced its rise back into the EFL.
“I knew I was out of contract last season, but I only wanted promotion. It was never in my mind that I might not be here beyond that – I just wanted to get the club back into the EFL, which was my objective when I first arrived.
“It took longer than I hoped, but we got there eventually and it’s nice that I’m able to continue the journey.
“We’ve come on a long way since I first came in. It was always going to take a while to develop the infrastructure under the new owners but, after steady progress in recent seasons, you would probably say that the gaffer’s arrival was the final piece of the puzzle. I think he helped us realise our potential.
“In my opinion, the club is all set to go again next season. We’ve got a beautiful stadium, massive fanbase, great training facilities – it’s set up to be a League One club, if not Championship.
“I’ll be coming back in for pre-season with the mindset of challenging for the league title. When you look at what Stockport so nearly achieved in League Two this year, I think we have to be confident.”
Having suffered play-off disappointment in each of the previous three seasons, Rawlinson sunk to his knees on the halfway line as Cedwyn Scott’s spotkick won the 2022-23 play-off final at Wembley.
“It was the emotion of what had just happened,” he said. “You knew, if that penalty hit the back of the net, you were promoted – four years of hard graft and heartbreak coming down to one moment.
“I’ve walked lads off pitches in play-off campaigns that I haven’t played in and their heads were down, they were gutted. I didn’t want that for anyone, so I just made sure I gave everything I had in the game.
“It felt like the weight of the world came off our shoulders when that ball crossed the line. The pressure was immense, both from the fans who travelled in amazing numbers and from loved ones in the stadium who were desperate for us to win.
“My first thought was about family members who would have loved to have been there. I shared a hug with John Bostock and went straight over to my wife, kids and two best mates.
“It’s hard to put into words how much it meant to me. I’ve had some good achievements in my career – winning titles in Wales and playing in Europe – but nothing compares to winning at Wembley.
“It was a dream come true. I could almost have retired there and then, that’s how big a moment it was. I don’t think anything will ever top it.
“Having lost Jason and gone through so many tough times, I feel like we deserved that as a club.”
Rawlinson is expecting a tough battle for a place in Luke Williams’ starting XI next season – but has every confidence in his ability to earn it.
“Every club I’ve been at, I’ve always had competition,” he said. “I’ve never been a player who’s been considered a guaranteed starter at the beginning of a season.
“I’ve always put myself in that position through hard work and performing when I’ve been given a chance. It’s nothing new to me – I thrive off it.
“The competition was frightening last year and it’s going to be even stronger now, I’m sure, in a bigger and better league.”
With 156 Notts appearances to his name, Rawlinson now has a double-century in his sights.
“In the modern game, I think if you can reach 200 appearances for a club it’s a really good achievement,” he said.
“I’m not going to be around forever, and I like the idea of being able to stamp my family name into the history of such a big club. It’s something I’m going to really push for.
“I feel a real sense of belonging to this club and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to stay.
“I’ve got a loyalty and dedication to Notts - and I like that. My heart will always be here.”
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