SEVEN AND A half years into his college career, Waterford hurler Noel Connors is entering ‘Van Wilder’ territory.
But unlike Ryan Reynolds’ character in the 2002 US comedy, Connors has put his time in third-level education to good use.
After completing his four-year undergraduate degree in Business Studies, Connors studied a Masters of Business Studies in Management before taking some time out to travel around South Asia and Australia.
The two-time All-Star is now coming to the end of his three-year PhD in Waterford IT, with his studies centered around ‘club leadership within the GAA.’
“My research is fundamentally looking at the GAA club,” Connors explains. “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.”
By the time the academic work is complete, “hopefully by September” he tells us, the 26-year-old will be formally known as ‘Dr Connors’ to you and I.
With Waterford seen as serious contenders to usurp Tipperary’s All-Ireland crown, September might well be a busy month for the Passage East defender. It’s probably a good thing he has a little bit of breathing space for his PhD work to be completed.
“It doesn’t really bother me too much if it goes to Christmas time as long as I have it done before December I will be happy. It has been a long slog, I’ve been in college eight years, reality is hitting home that you have to get a job.
“I’ll have a pension before I actually get a job,” he laughs.
As well as the pressure that comes with completing a three-year thesis, there’s a hint of expectation surrounding Waterford as they enter Year Four under talented boss Derek McGrath.
2016 brought the county an All-Ireland U21 title, while the seniors gave Kilkenny the fright of their lives over two games in the All-Ireland semi-final and replay.
“There is certainly an expectation there but I think it’s off the back of the U21 success of last year and maybe the minor going back (to 2013),” he says.
“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.”
With Kilkenny no longer the fearsome beast of old, a competitive new hurling landscape is forming, with potentially five teams harbouring genuine ambitions of going all the way.
“Going on what we saw over the last 12 months, certainly Tipperary were incredible from the very first game to the very last. It’s something that Kilkenny have done for years. So we’re all trying to get up to that (level).
“They’re probably on a step or two ahead of everyone else so we’ll endeavour to try and to reach that in next number of months and weeks in training and matches.
“Certainly Tipperary are the team to beat at the minute and there’s a chasing pack of quite a number of teams that people are kind of writing off.
“It’ll be interesting because Munster in itself is nearly a championship. Munster is nearly like Ulster football where you nearly have to win a championship before you actually go on to play the All-Ireland series. Anyone can win in Munster on any given day.
“The year that Tipperary won the All-Ireland final in 2010 I think Cork gave them a bit of a trimming down in Cork. So anything can happen it’s just about how you can bounce back, how resilient you are as a team. I think that’s something that could ultimately work in your favour.”
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