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Waterford hurler Noel Connors pictured at the GAA-GPA launch of the ESRI Research Project at Croke Park.
Waterford hurler Noel Connors pictured at the GAA-GPA launch of the ESRI Research Project at Croke Park.

Noel Connors: 'The expectation was already there anyway'

By Cian O'Connell

The Allianz Hurling League is just over a month away, but Waterford minds are already focused on the significant Spring challenges that await.

Having contested the last two deciders - winning in 2015 before losing last year following a replay against Clare - Waterford have impressed in the competition recently.

"Regardless of what you say, I think the League is very important because you're playing competitive matches and the only way you're going to progress and develop as a team is to try your best to get across the line in the League," Connors says.

"I think this whole notion that you're going to go into second gear in the League and get through it and stay there in Division 1A is maybe a small bit away from reality. You're going to have to go out and certainly commit and put your shoulder to the wheel when you play those matches.

"It's just the nature of the way the League format is now, to what it was. It just takes an incredible amount of work to get to that level in the League, and then to taper off and go at it again in the Championship. The League is very, very important for every team. Everyone probably plays it down, but look, every inter-county player wants to win and every inter-county manager wants to win.

"You saw the likes of even Davy (Fitzgerald), I think they won by 35 points or something at the weekend. That's a statement of intent if anything. It's a short shelf life as a player, as a manager, so you want to win every game."

How Waterford have introduced so many talented youngsters under Derek McGrath ensures the future glimmers with promise. "It’s probably something we benefited from, and we didn’t realise at the time, was coming back up from Division 1B when we had an opportunity to try some young lads in games," is Noel Connors verdict.

"We probably were able to get a small bit of momentum going because that was something that was definitely required. With youth you need a bit of momentum and a bit of confidence and that’s definitely what we gained from being in Division 1B."

Noel Connors before the drawn 2016 All Ireland Hurling Semi-Final against Kilkenny at Croke Park.
Noel Connors before the drawn 2016 All Ireland Hurling Semi-Final against Kilkenny at Croke Park.

Hopes are high in Waterford again that another serious bid for Munster and All Ireland silverware can be launched. "There is certainly  an expectation there, but I think it’s off the back of the Under-21 success of last year and maybe the minor going back two or three years ago.

"But I think the real GAA people will sit down and reflect and say last year’s Under-21 team had 12, I think, fellas who were on the senior team.

"When you're training at that level for the last three or four years, you had the likes of Austin (Gleeson) and all these players playing for quite a number of years, there's a certain amount of maturity that comes with that and ultimately when you go out and play U21 there's certainly a major benefit there.

"So they've been training, they have the strength and conditioning done. They have all of that development done.

"There's certainly an expectation there, but when you sit back the expectation was already there anyway. The players have been there, so I think that's probably something we need to voice ourselves, and say that we need to maybe sit back and relax a small bit and realise that we haven't won one since '59 and it's not something that you can just walk up to Croke Park on the first Sunday in September and take away. There's definitely a lot of ups and downs along the way and you've seen that over the last number of seasons."

Speaking at the GAA-GPA launch of the ESRI Research Project, Connors also explained that he will complete a PhD this year on GAA matters at Waterford IT. "My research is fundamentally looking at the GAA club," Connors stated.

"Basically it tries to understand how a GAA club actually operates, how people get to positions of power, how it deals with conflict, how it organises itself. I think that because it is so complex as an organisation it organises itself very alternatively from what bureaucracy does.

"I'm not going to get into all of this highfalutin language because it isn't that interesting at the minute - it is just looking at how the GAA organises itself and how it has dealt with so many ups and downs in the last number of years and how it is so resilient and flexible and so on."

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