MARK CONNOLLY looks set to play his last game for Dunfermline on Saturday as he closes in on a move to Ireland.

Manager John Hughes said that the 30-year-old, who joined on loan from Dundee United in September, will be heading back to his homeland “unless we hear otherwise” after the match with Hamilton Academical.

He has also confirmed that league leaders Arbroath, along with others, have registered an interested in forward Craig Wighton, while the club have “moved on” having expressed interest in Rangers full back James Maxwell, who has been on loan with Ayr United.

In what has been a busy January transfer window, Hughes has brought in winger Stevie Lawless and Ross County defender Coll Donaldson on loan but saw centre back Vytas Gašpuitis, who has returned to Lithuania, leave the club alongside loan signings Ross Graham and Kai Kennedy, who have returned to Dundee United and Rangers respectively.

Signed by Hughes’ predecessor, Peter Grant, experienced defender Connolly made his debut at Raith Rovers and has gone on to play 13 times for the Pars, scoring in last month’s 3-3 draw with Queen of the South.

He missed Saturday’s drubbing by Morton with a thigh injury and his loan is due to expire after this weekend’s match.

Hughes made no secret of his desire to keep Connolly, who returned to training on Tuesday, but he has been linked strongly with a loan move to League of Ireland Premier Division Dundalk.

“What we heard will be no different from you,” Hughes, who has been linked with a move for St Johnstone's former Celtic defender, Efe Ambrose, said.

“We heard he was going over to Ireland on loan so that looks like the case, unless we hear otherwise.

“I’d love to keep him here until the end of the season. He’s that kind of warrior, battler we need, and we probably missed him on Saturday.

“I’m not making excuses but if you look at Lewis Martin, that’s Lewis Martin’s first game for a long, long time, same with Coll Donaldson, and I think it showed a wee bit.

“We’re doing everything we can to help them but we certainly missed those leadership qualities of Mark, that’s for sure.

“I think he’ll be alright on Saturday and hopefully he can send us off with three points.”

Wighton, who joined permanently in the summer after spending the second half of last term on loan from Hearts, has started just twice since Hughes took over – in the abandoned match at Kilmarnock, and the Boxing Day defeat to Arbroath – and has made only one other appearance from the bench.

Dunfermline Press:

Craig Wighton has found game time limited under John Hughes. Photo: Craig Brown.

Hughes continued: “There’s a few clubs in for Craig to tell you the truth. I’ll not mention other ones, I think that’s unfair, but Arbroath’s certainly one of them. I think he had a good time there before (on loan in 2020).

“Everybody wants to play and I totally understand that. No matter what player it is, we’ve had that strategy meeting where we feel there will be one or two we don’t want to lose, like Gašpuitis, but if it’s good business for the club, then we’ll do the business.

“Right at this moment in time, I don’t know where we are or where Wiggy is with Arbroath. Maybe come Saturday I could tell you a bit more.”

On potential arrivals, Hughes added: “there’s a lot of teams holding on to players because of COVID, I can understand that, and you think you’re just about there and the rug gets pulled from under you, and you just need to keep going again.

“Would I liked to have done all my business in the first 10 days of the window? 100 per cent. It’s not going to be like that. I can only apologise to the supporters.

“We have to be very specific to make sure what we’re bringing in enhances the team.”

Meanwhile, it has been confirmed that midfielder Paul Allan has signed a new contract with the club.

The 20-year-old, a graduate of the Fife Elite Football Academy and who joined Dunfermline in 2017, has extended his stay with the club to May 2024, following in the footsteps of Lewis McCann, who signed a similar deal earlier this month.

Midfielder Allan has made 14 appearances this season, featuring in four of the matches that Hughes has taken charge of.