Newport County: What next for Exiles after their greatest escape?

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The Great Escape: This is Newport County's story

It took Newport County 25 years to go from extinction to the Football League, but it took Mark O'Brien just one swing of a right boot to transform their future.

Seemingly dead and buried when former player and local lad Mike Flynn took charge with 12 games remaining this term, 11 points adrift of safety and once again at their lowest ebb, County had been written off.

For a club who have adversity running through their DNA and always have done, this was set to be a sad footnote to a glorious resurrection.

The club folded in 1989, rising again via a spell in the depths of the non-league scene before promotion at Wembley under Justin Edinburgh when they were bankrolled by a multi-millionaire lottery winner.

Since Edinburgh's departure in March 2015, six men have arrived and left Rodney Parade, with ex-international players like Warren Feeney and Terry Butcher finding the job no easier than coaches Jimmy Dack and Graham Westley.

Westley exited in March with County looking all but relegated and Flynn given a seemingly impossible task for a rookie boss.

The Exiles completed the unthinkable on Saturday, however, clinching survival thanks to O'Brien's last-gasp strike gifting them the three points they needed to stay up in League Two.

The ramifications for a club that is fan-owned, are monumental.

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Newport boss Mike Flynn: 'I am absolutely ecstatic'

'What an opportunity we have got'

Roared on by a record crowd of 7,500, Newport have re-engaged their fanbase, according to chairman Gavin Foxall.

"The whole game was a rollercoaster and the last 10 minutes even more so. At one point we thought we were down and out," he said.

"The way Mark O'Brien popped up and did what he did was just unbelievable and you could see what it meant to all the people.

"The fans of Newport turned out. 7,500 have come, and for me personally, it just shows what an opportunity we've got in Newport with a stadium in the centre. The bars were full, the restaurants did well and sport is really important to the centre of Newport.

"What a job that boy [Flynn] has done. He's been absolutely fantastic. He's Newport through and through. When we appointed him we said 'we want you to put some pride and passion in the shirt.'

"I spoke to the players and said exactly the same to them and they have more than delivered on that.

"Lennie Lawrence [Flynn's assistant] said to me at this level you need somebody who really cares about this club. I'm not suggesting other managers haven't but we've got somebody from the local area who lives in the local area and that can only bode well for us as a club going forward."

David Pipe
David Pipe rejoined the Exiles this season from non-league Eastleigh

'I've seen nothing like it'

Defender David Pipe is a former Wales international as well as being the captain of County's 2013 play-off team, but the loanee re-signed by Westley from non-league Eastleigh says Saturday's win eclipses everything else.

"I've seen nothing like that. Obviously everyone's going to talk about [winning the 2013 Conference play-off final] at Wembley due to it being a milestone," he said.

"You could kind of weigh it up but the pressure that was on this game and the turnaround, the points gap, everyone writing us off, add all that together and I honestly think it would be a struggle for anyone to repeat that in that short space of time.

"Credit to everyone involved. Credit to the fans who have come back in their numbers. Obviously the atmosphere, at the end of the day I think it got us over the line.

"We're on the pitch but when we keep going and going, we knew that we were going down but we didn't stop. The end result is what everyone deserves."

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Newport hero Mark O'Brien: 'We pushed to the end'

Pipe feels the Exiles have a bright future under their current boss.

"Obviously, the gaffer is very clever with the people he's brought in, including himself who's galvanised the place like no one's business," he said.

"I think as a collective, the county, the fans, everyone involved, you walk into shops and everyone's buzzing again and it's a massive collective effort.

"If Michael Flynn is not manager next year of Newport County, I might hang my boots up myself because that would be a disgrace."

There seems little prospect of that happening, with Newport finally ready to dream again after somehow escaping a nightmare campaign with their Football League status still intact.

Analysis

BBC Wales football correspondent Rob Phillips

Fair play to manager Mike Flynn, unlike Steve McQueen, he brought the wire cutters for Newport County's 'Great Escape'.

In that movie, Captain Virgil Hilts (McQueen) ended up back in a cell, that iconic bike ride having ended with him entangled in a wire fence.

In the 'Great Escape' remake, everyone in County colours got away. But what of their future?

The consequences of an unforgettable afternoon, when emotions were put through the ringer at Rodney Parade, could be immense for football in the city.

Flynn inspired a written-off squad to seven wins in his dozen matches, which included games against six of those who finished in the League Two top seven, and all this achieved on the worst pitch in the Football League.

A new contract for Flynn is a formality. His influence in the dressing room has been a key element in the transformation. Don't underestimate his tactical nous, either, nor the choice of backroom team - coach Wayne Hatswell and trusty advisor Lawrence.

A crowd of more than 7,500 shows there is interest in the club and might prompt those with significant funds in the area to help out, too.

Now the club must ensure this 'Great Escape' becomes an 'Escape to Victory'.

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