Hendon’s ever-present happy to prove doubters wrong
17:00 17 September 2015
Simon O'Connor Photography
Connor Essam discusses life at Leyton Orient, people insisting he was mad to join the east Londoners and being with Hendon and Hessenthaler again
Only one person has played every minute for Leyton Orient this season under head coach Ian Hendon and that man admits he is relishing life back in the Football League.
Connor Essam has featured in all seven of the O’s League Two matches and also in the Capital One Cup defeat to MK Dons and the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy clash at Luton Town.
The 23-year-old is back in the fourth tier of English football after captaining Dover Athletic in the Conference Premier, now named the National League, last year.
He reveals people suggested he was mad to join Orient in the summer because he would just be a ‘squad player’, but the former Gillingham and Crawley Town ace has proved the doubters wrong by beginning the campaign strongly.
Essam is delighted to have repaid the faith of Hendon and assistant Andy Hessenthaler and is pleased with how his partnership with O’s skipper Mathieu Baudry is developing in the centre of defence.
He said: “Am I the only player to have played every minute for Leyton Orient this season? I didn’t know that, but it is pleasing to hear and all I wanted really was regular football.
“I have to thank the gaffer for putting his faith in me and giving me a run of games. I think I am still getting better and the more matches I play the more I will continue to improve so personally it has been a decent, consistent start and obviously for the team as well.
“We have had disappointment in the cups, but I think everyone knows that our priority is the league and to be top after seven games, everybody would have taken that at the beginning of the campaign so we have had a good solid start and we are ready to push on.”
Essam continued: “I knew the gaffer from before at Gillingham and ‘Hessy’ as well so they knew a lot about me, but I have worked hard in pre-season and I am the fittest and in the best shape I have ever been.
“On the pitch it has been decent and I am glad to be forming a little bit of a partnership with ‘Frenchy’ in the middle.
“We are still learning about each other as well, it doesn’t just happen over night. He is still learning about me and vice versa so I believe we will only get better and we are going in the right direction.”
Essam enjoyed a lot of success with Dover after joining when he left Crawley by mutual consent on September 1 of last year.
He captained the non-league club and helped them reach the third round of the FA Cup where they played against Premier League side Crystal Palace.
But the defender always wanted a return to the Football League and felt the opportunity to link up with Hendon and Hessenthaler was one too good to turn down.
“I had spoken to a couple of League Two clubs in the summer and most of them knew my situation, I wanted to play league football so I spoke to a few teams, but nobody could guarantee me first team football,” added Essam.
“They couldn’t guarantee me that here either, but I knew the gaffer and ‘Hessy’ knew me and vice versa so I wanted to come here and show them what I am about.
“I have grown up a lot as well over the past two or three years since they have had me so I felt their was a place at Orient for me. I have come to the club, trained hard and proved that and hopefully they are pleased with my performances and I am beginning to repay the faith they put in me.”
Essam signed for the Brisbane Road outfit in the summer after impressing during a trial period, but not everyone was convinced he’d make the cut in east London.
He was always confident in his ability, though, and to have played every minute of every match this season is testament to the 23-year-old’s talent.
“A lot of people said ‘are you mad going into a massive club like Leyton Orient, you are going to get lost in the squad,’ but I didn’t see it like that,” said Essam.
“I was happy at Dover and had a good season, but without being disrespectful to the club or the National League because it is a great league, it wasn’t where I wanted to be.
“When this opportunity came up I just wanted to grab it because I believe in my ability and I am still young, just turned 23, so I still have a lot of learning to do and I think I am at a good place to do that.
“The coaching is good here and everyone is willing to help. The squad is obviously not massive so they are able to help every single one of us so I thought Leyton Orient was the best place for me to learn and improve and obviously play as well and it has been a great move so I am very happy.”