Sunday, May 5, 2013. A date that will live long in the memory for Newport County AFC as the Club returned to the Football League after a 25-year absence.
Led by the late great Justin Edinburgh, in his first full season in charge, the Exiles saw off Welsh rivals Wrexham 2-0 at Wembley thanks to goals from Christian Jolley and Aaron O’Connor to clinch promotion from the National League – then called the Conference Premier.
The Club are still going strong in SkyBet League Two having created many magical memories along the way, but what happened to the heroes from seven years ago?
Scorer of the goal the sealed the win, Aaron O’Connor, is who we are looking at next.
Edinburgh bought O’Connor to Newport in 2012, the third time he had managed the striker after spells at Grays Athletic and Rushden & Diamonds.
The striker also spent time at Mansfield Town, Gresley Rovers, Ilkeston Town, Nuneaton Borough and Scunthorpe United before signing for County after his release from Luton Town.
The attacker enjoyed a perfect start to his time in amber with a goal on his debut in a thrilling 4-3 win over Mansfield Town. He followed that up with five goals in the following four games, which helped the Club bag maximum points and earned himself the league’s player of the month award.
O’Connor played a vital part in County’s attack with 17 goals in 28 Conference Premier games, including a goal in a 5-2 win against his former club Luton.
Disaster struck in January when he left the field on a stretcher in the first half of a 2-0 defeat to Barrow. The Exiles continued their promotion push in his absence with a draw and five wins before he made his comeback six weeks later in a 1-1 draw with Ebbsfleet United.
He struggled for fitness and failed to rediscover his previous form with just one more league goal – in a 2-0 win over Southport – but he still played an important role as the Exiles finished third and qualified for the play-offs.
He missed the semi-final first leg against Grimsby Town but Ismail Yakubu’s late goal put County in control. He replaced Danny Crow for the final 18 minutes for the second leg, where Christian Jolley sealed their passage through to an all-Welsh final vs Wrexham at Wembley.
O’Connor had played the final half hour of the play-off final 12 months earlier but ended up on the losing the side. He started on the bench again for County and replaced Crow on 63 minutes but this time it was a happier ending as he smashed home in the final minutes to earn County a place back in the Football League after a 25-year absence.
The Nottingham-born forward agreed to stay on at Rodney Parade but suffered a troublesome groin injury that kept him on the sidelines for the majority of the following season.
The Exiles managed to finish 14th even without the goals of O’Connor, who returned in April with substitute appearances against AFC Wimbledon, Burton Albion and York City before starting, and scoring, in a 2-1 win over Rochdale on the final day of the season.
With an injury-free pre-season under his belt, O’Connor was able to start the 2014/15 campaign, but County struggled initially having to wait five league games for a win.
The Club’s form improved as the season went on and so did O’Connor’s with the striker enjoying a purple patch in November with five goals, including a hat-trick in a 3-1 victory at Bury.
A red card in the final seconds of a 2-0 win over Stevenage saw him miss the festive fixtures while injury halted his momentum further during February and March.
But he managed to find the net four times in the final 11 matches as Newport County narrowly missed out on a place in the play-offs.
Terry Butcher made his mark on his arrival in the summer of 2015 as he let several first-team stars leave the Club, including O’Connor who joined up with National League outfit Forest Green Rovers.
He enjoyed a strong start to his time at the New Lawn, alongside former Exiles Darren Jones and David Pipe, with 11 goals in 20 games, including a run of six goals as Rovers set a new league record by winning their first nine fixtures.
Injury struck again for O’Connor and he failed to force his way back into the starting XI and left for Stevenage on loan in January.
The striker soon made that move permanent but his stay only lasted a few months before he was released that summer after scoring once in 13 appearances, that solo strike came against County at Rodney Parade.
He joined Kettering Town after leaving Stevenage and quickly established himself topping the club’s scoring charts in his first season and claiming the players’ player of the year. He enjoyed a clean sweep the following season, winning four player of the years awards (trust player of the year, players’ player of the year, fans’ players of the year and overall player of the year).
The 36-year-old started this season with the Poppies but has since left the club and is currently looking for his next adventure.
He returned to Rodney Parade earlier this season to see Edinburgh posthumously inducted into the Club’s Hall of Fame.