Derry's 'cool cat' bringing professional skills from Aussie Rules into All-Ireland semi-final

Conor Nash tells The42 about the strengths of his former Hawthorn teammate, and Derry’s star midfielder, Conor Glass.

Updated Jul 9th 2022, 12:07 PM

THE FIRST TIME Conor Nash saw Derry midfielder play was at the 2013 All-Ireland colleges final between St Pat’s of Maghera and St Pat’s of Navan.

afl-clubs-covid-19 Conor Glass in training with his former teammate Conor Nash with AFL side Hawthorn. Source: AAP/PA Images

Nash looked on at the talented defender with the “mop of red hair” who was putting in a shift to help the Derry school to victory over their Meath opponents. He wasn’t the only one taking notice of Glass. Another keen group of viewers attending the game that day had come all the way from Melbourne. They were looking at Glass, considering whether or not he would be a good addition for the AFL side Hawthorn.

The club recruiters were suitably impressed, and two years later, they got their guy as Glass signed for Hawthorn as a Category B rookie. He made the trip as an Ulster minor champion having also played in an All-Ireland minor semi-final. Interestingly, Nash ended up joining Hawthorn as a rookie recruit in 2016. Three years on from looking on admiringly at Glass’s game, Nash was now eager to learn the ropes from his new teammate from Derry.

“He’d been out here a few months before me and was a great help,” Nash recalls to The42.

“His physical attributes are brilliant. He’s a big man at about 6 ft 4. He’s fast, and can jump but I think it’s more his nous. He plays as a kind of holding midfielder and his football smarts are extremely high, and I figured that from the start. And that’s why I was following him.

“He reads the play so well and then his skills off either side are second to none really.”

The pair stayed together with a host family during their formative days at Hawthorn. A friendship quickly blossomed and they eventually moved in with a son of that host family, where Westmeath footballer Ray Connellan was their housemate. Connellan enjoyed stints with St Kilda and Essendon during his time Down Under and has since returned home after calling time on his AFL career.

There were games of pool every night before bed, and the boys discovered common interests in each other which they explored while working hard for Hawthorn. And once Nash scratched beneath the surface level of Glass’ character, he found even more fascinating facets of his new friend to enjoy.

“We had a great time together,” says Nash.

“Glassy is pretty chilled when he’s not training. He’s pretty cruisy and doesn’t like too much fuss. He likes his comforts and loved his playstation at the time. But he wasn’t lazy around the house either; he wanted to get better at cooking and was trying out new meals. We were a good match and the house ran pretty smoothly.

conor-glass Conor Glass on the ball for St Pat's Maghera in the 2013 colleges final. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“He always had an interest in business and cafés. The café culture in Australia is huge and he’s looking to open up his own café. I know Conor McKenna [RYCO Coffee House] has one up in Moy. People are really buying into that culture now because it’s quite cool and hip to have an interest in coffee, and going out and socialising. We’ve always had an interest in it and we’ve sampled different cafés around Melbourne.

“He’s massive into design and architecture as well. I know he’s doing an accountancy degree but he has an interest in design too. He’s a cool cat and he has some quirks about him.”

After 21 AFL appearances for Hawthorn, Glass decided to retire from Aussie Rules and return home to Ireland. He had often remarked that pursuing a Gaelic Football career with the Derry seniors was still on his mind and that he would chase that ambition at some point. He made his move in September 2020, and was back in a Derry jersey within a month for the Covid-delayed season to make his senior debut.

The switch back to the oval ball has yielded major dividends for both Glass and Derry. They ended a 24-year wait for Ulster success earlier this summer after an extra-time final against Donegal, and have only Galway left to beat to progress to the All-Ireland final.

“I suppose in 2020, the club came to chat to him about his contract,” says Nash about Glass’s thinking process behind the decision to leave the AFL.

“I suppose he just wasn’t enjoying it as much. I think he would have liked to break through a bit more and it just wasn’t going that way. He always believed he could be a big star at home with Gaelic football which he is, and we knew that was going to happen.

“When he came to me, he had been chatting to family and folks, and he was missing home quite a bit. Then he came to me to chat about it one night. We talked over what he thought about the whole situation. I told him that I knew he was going to be a star and I was playing Devil’s advocate for going home and I just asked him: ‘What about if you did stay and fought it out?’

“So, he did stay for the rest of that year. And then myself and Glassy had a very grown up conversation with Hawthorn. They told him that they probably weren’t going to offer him anything if he was thinking about going home, so both parties were feeling each other out. But I do believe that if he decided to stay and give it one more year, he would have found an opportunity there. He had been leaning towards going home.”

This weekend, Nash will look at Glass playing in Croke Park once again. Circumstances have changed slightly since that 2013 occasion though: Glass is playing in the senior leagues now, and Nash won’t be in the stand to see it. He has an AFL game against Adelaide to face on Sunday afternoon, but will watch the All-Ireland semi-final between Derry and Galway in the morning to pass the hours beforehand.

Still friends despite the vast distance between them, Nash will send him a good luck text too before the 5.30pm throw-in.

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In 2021, not long after resuming his playing career with Derry, Glass declared in an interview with The42 that his county should be pressing for provincial and All-Ireland glory. He has wasted little time on following through with that objective. The narrative around GAA players venturing into the AFL tends to focus on the players who didn’t come back with the playing ability that they left with. But in Glass’s case, he’s a better athlete for the time he spent in a professional sport.

cathal-oconnor-and-conor-glass Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“He knew they [Derry] were going to go far. He’s not afraid to say these things but he’ll only say them when he knows they’re achievable. 

“He’s backed himself in terms of all the knowledge that he can bring back from Australia. I don’t think counties dig into it enough, even if it’s someone who’s been here for two years. I think Derry were open to that.

“Glassy was here for four and-a-half years and he has seen a different perspective of coaching, skills and tactical things. GAA dinosaurs will say that it’s a completely different game but it’s still professional sport. You have to tap into the stuff. There’s a massive emphasis out here on the culture of a club and leadership groups, and how they work within a team to develop players as leaders from a young age.

“Having a trademark that players hold themselves accountable to. There are just a lot of things that I know Glassy talked about before he went home. There’s no doubt that he has brought all that to the table in Derry and they’re seeing the fruits of it. Glassy is a wiser head for having this experience out here in trying to get to know a new game and dealing with different types of teammates and systems.

“Some guys will say that the AFL takes our players and they don’t return but I think Glassy is testament to the opposite of that.”

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