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Waterford hurler Noel Connors.
Waterford hurler Noel Connors.

Noel Connors still combining study and sport


By Cian O’Connell

The end is in sight, Noel Connors is nearly there. It has taken the guts of three tough years to complete, but the Waterford’s hurler is getting ready to submit a thesis for his PhD.

That it focuses on the role and importance of the GAA club ensures Connors’ days are spent writing and researching. Then the focus turns to hurling in the evening. Connors wouldn’t have it any other way.

“The PhD is going quite well if I'm very honest about it, I made my first submission to my supervisor on Friday so reality is hitting home,” Connors admits.

“I'm looking forward to finishing it, I hope to have it finished by close to September all things going well. I hope to have it finished and completed by September time to get on with my life at that stage.

“Being in college for eight years is a very long sentence, but it has been enjoyable, it has been challenging to say the least.”

GAA clubs continue to offer significant help and a valuable service to communities throughout the world. So what exactly is the theme of the project?

“What I'm looking at is the GAA club and how it alternatively organises itself and how it doesn't become like every other organisation, become bureaucratic, become focused on money, become focused on trying to redefine itself,” Connors answers.

“A lot of modern organisations are probably losing sight of what they are about, they end up focusing on the bottom line instead of why they were set up initially. Here is an organisation since 1884 that has been incredibly successful, sticking to its purpose.

“Everybody involved in a GAA club is well aware of what the GAA is about and it doesn't lose sight of getting narrowed up on all of these committee meetings, making direct decisions, it is very much about persisting in the community and surviving as a club, doing everything you can to get the club in the best possible position.”

Has anything surprised Connors during his stint exploring GAA clubs? “I suppose the basic themes that come out of it is that it alternatively organises itself,” Connors says.

“There is a notion that every organisation is very similar, that every organisation is more interested in money and capitalism whereas the GAA club is the opposite. It is more interested in persisting as an organisation in spite of the fact that it is a voluntary organisation, it is relatively low resourced.

“It builds tremendous commitment and sustainability through a number of people. They do it without any material reward for it so that alternative organising and how GAA clubs are run through families and their close networks was really, really interesting.

“That goes totally against what modern organisations are about. They don't want nepotism, individualism, they don't want favouritism, all that kind of stuff is totally marginalised in the corporate world.”

Noel Connors in action against Kilkenny at Semple Stadium.
Noel Connors in action against Kilkenny at Semple Stadium.

Ultimately, it has been a very fulfilling time for Connors, who has thoroughly enjoyed the whole process. Combining work and sport is important. “You do it because you love it, I love what I do, and I love to give back to the GAA,” Connors states. “I suppose it is has been incredibly powerful in my life, if I can give back a small bit to the organisation it would be great.”

GAA matters are on the agenda most of the time for Connors, but that doesn’t bother him. Hurling for Waterford is a privilege, while investigating how clubs function interests Connors. “Yeah, that is no different to any other GAA family or families steeped in the GAA,” Connors remarks about being immersed in GAA activities.

“I found a girlfriend that played Tipperary football so she is very empathetic and understanding for my lack of correspondence for the vast majority of the year,” jokes Connors.

“It is very encouraging that you have that safety net behind you, if you ever need a chat or need to get away from it as well they are always there. Coming from a small community in Passage, everyone rallies around each other. If you ever need anything that is the place you go to.

“It was interesting one of the interviewees said to me perhaps one of the best places to look at the GAA club is through the eyes of a GAA funeral, where everything shuts down and the GAA takes over the community in the best possible way. That is probably a fair reflection on everything good about the GAA.”

Between the white chalk lines Connors was hugely encouraged by the impact some promising youngsters made during Waterford’s All Ireland SHC Qualifiers Round Two triumph over Kilkenny.

Waterford refused to press the panic button following Kilkenny’s trademark rally at the end of normal time.

“The mindset was to try to close out the game,” Connors adds. “We got a free towards the end when it didn't go over there was an automatic reset of the mind that you knew it was going to go to extra-time. It was about getting back into the dressing room, regroup and I think a lot of our energy came from the subs that came on.

“When you looked down the room you saw the likes of Brian O'Halloran, Tommy Ryan, Paddy Curran, they had a lot of energy and a lot of speed, they had a lot to offer the team. When we saw them coming on we knew we were in safe hands, that they would catch the match by the scruff of the neck to drive on.”

Now Wexford are on the agenda at Pairc Ui Chaoimh on Sunday. Another south east battle is capturing the imagination.

“Absolutely, when you think about Wexford you think about passion and energy and hard work,” Connor says.

“Davy (Fitzgerald) has gone in there, he certainly brings an element of professionalism. Their campaigns in Leinster and through the League have been phenomenal, marry that with the Under 21 successes over the past number of years, and they have very good minors coming through.

“They will bring a total different aspect to it, but it is something that we will look forward to. This is what we play hurling for, to be playing in big games in front of big crowds. We play because we want to represent our families and where we come from. We are going to go out to relish the opportunity.”

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