Noel Connors looking forward to Walsh Park Championship matches
By Cian O'Connell
As an intriguing Munster Hurling Championship edges closer excitement and anticipation is rising in Waterford.
Noel Connors has enjoyed some splendid moments for the Deise and endured demanding defeats, but next month will get the opportunity to perform in a critical summer fixture at Walsh Park.
May 12 is a date etched in Waterford minds when Pauric Fanning’s outfit face Clare and Connors acknowledges it is an exciting time to be preparing for that high stakes encounter.
“The reason you play is to look forward to Championship games, we have the added benefit and element of playing home matches at Walsh Park,” Connors says ahead of what promises to be an interesting tussle down south.
“It is a long time, I can't remember going to a Championship match in Walsh Park so it is going to be something quite different and quite special for all of us involved.
“The next couple of weeks are to be looked forward to, the ground is getting harder and the ball is starting to fly a bit more. Everyone wants to be playing when the weather is nice.
“So it is all about getting to training, doing the best you can, recovery, pushing the body to the limit. Everyone looks forward to it.
“Most players probably don't read the papers or listen to the radio when it comes to it, but there is a sense that the GAA is coming back around so we are looking forward to it.”
Ultimately despite losing the Allianz Hurling League decider against Limerick it was a spring sprinkled with positives for Waterford according to Connors.
“Absolutely, I suppose it was match after match, game after game so you don't get time to reflect or really think about it,” Connors states.
“Overall you'd be happy enough with the start and throughout, but at the end of the day we didn't win silverware.
“We got to a League Final, but unfortunately just didn't perform. Maybe it was the fact that Limerick just didn't allow us to perform on the day, but after a good run of games we didn't get to the level we needed to in the League Final. That is the most important day of the League.”
The fact that Waterford afforded emerging young talent playing time throughout the League was another source of satisfaction.
“It was great in that respect,” Connors admits. “We got the opportunity to try out a load of young lads, to see how they'd react to playing with the pace of the game.
“Particularly it was a tough few weeks towards the end of it when we were playing Galway, Clare, Galway again, and then on to Limerick. It was good to get competitive games week after week, it was a good tester going into the Munster Championship.”
Derek McGrath’s passion and purpose struck a chord with the Waterford panel, but Connors is encouraged by how the well regarded Fanning has adapted to being in charge.
“I think any manager now at the top level are all trying to do the same thing by getting small percentages,” Connors replies. “They are trying to build an environment where players can get to the best of their ability to thrive really. It is no different to Derek in that respect. The transition was quite seamless really.
“Last year we were unfortunate enough against Clare to get so many bad injuries. These things happen when you are playing competitive matches, it could happen again when playing against Clare in the first round again.
“They are things you can't control, the most important thing for us is the next couple of weeks. For the last couple of months we have tried to get ourselves in the best possible shape we can get to in order to get our hurling up to the standard that is required.”
Off the field it has been a rewarding time for Connors too having completed a PhD focusing on leadership in the GAA.
“It was three and a half years of putting myself into the position of trying to research,” Connors remarks. “I'd be on my own for long periods of the day, but I'm happy to be finished. I'm delighted with the result. It was something I always wanted to see, to challenge myself.
“It is like anything, when you are a competitive person you always want to push yourself regardless of what you are doing.
“To get it done and put it behind me was fantastic. In fairness everyone within WIT, supervisor Ray Griffin, and my family and friends and teammates all played a huge part in me achieving the PhD.”
Connors willingness to embrace challenges on and off the pitch endures so an action packed May and June beckons.