York City chief Terry Dolan today pledged to step up his hunt for fresh blood after striker Barry Conlon was snapped up by Third Division rivals Darlington.

The City manager confirmed a left-sided midfielder and a forward remain top of his wish-list after Conlon signed a three-year deal at Feethams.

Darlington had been tracking the 22-year-old since he rejected terms with Second Division Colchester, where he had been playing on loan since November.

Quakers chairman George Reynolds claims to have paid his "biggest ever" transfer fee - believed to be around £50,000 - to land the former Irish Under-21 international.

"Barry wasn't settled last season," explained Reynolds.

"He knows he has a future here at Darlington. He feels very happy about the move and he's delighted with the set-up.

"We expect him to do well and that he'll score around 20 goals in the new season."

However, while Reynolds was delighted to have secured Conlon, City chief Dolan was not too aggrieved to lose the Irishman and admitted his departure would ease his shackles in the transfer market.

"It creates some space for us now," Dolan told the Evening Press.

"I am a lot happier with the squad compared to this time last year but it has been trimmed fairly substantially.

"There is room to bring in one or two new faces , which we will be looking at over the next few weeks."

Conlon, who started his career with QPR followed by spells with Manchester City and Southend before arriving at Bootham Crescent almost exactly two years ago for £100,000, said: "It's brilliant for me because I didn't really want to move house from York.

"The chairman has shown me the new stadium and the club is certainly going places."

With Conlon gone to Darlington, it left 19 senior players reporting for duty at the City's Wigginton road training ground for the start of pre-season this afternoon.

Midfielder Christian Fox was another notable absence today as he continues his recovery after major knee surgery in February.

Fox made two trips to Lilleshall, the national sports centre, this summer to aid his recovery and has now started running.

However, he will continue to work with City physio Jeff Miller until ready to join his team-mates in full-time training.

Manager Dolan said it would be a "gentle" workout for the squad to begin with, who will also be training tomorrow and Saturday.

Unlike last year, when City started pre-season with a couple of trialists in tow, Dolan said no trialists would be joining the club just yet.

It means the only 'new' face at training today was teenage centre-back Chris Smith, who has joined the club from Reading, while John Fielding made the leap from the youth team to the senior ranks.

The number of pros in the squad is in stark contrast to this time last year when 28 players, including trialists David McNiven, now released, and new Leyton Orient winger Phil Hadland, started pre-season.

Carlisle United's former York City winger Gordon Connelly has agreed a new one-year contract at Brunton Park .

"Gordon has a lot to offer us and can be an even better player after he has a good pre-season under his belt," said Carlisle boss Ian Atkins.

"He did ever so well last season and was a key player for us. He's a bit under-rated as he is one of those players who you sometimes wonder whether he's playing."

Updated: 10:09 Thursday, July 05, 2001