Gearóid O'Connor

'He has blossomed with the confidence the Fitzgibbon Cup gave him': the launch of Tipp's latest star

Gearóid O’Connor is in line for an exciting season with the Tipperary hurlers.

WHEN GEARÓID O’Connor stood over a late penalty in Tipperary’s Division 1 clash with Galway, the advice from the sideline was to tap the ball over the bar.

gearoid-oconnor-celebrates-scoring-a-penalty-in-added-time Gearóid O'Connor wheels away after scoring a penalty against Galway. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Liam Cahill’s side were two points clear with time almost up having just survived a nine-point comeback from their opponents. One more score would see them safely home with two league wins from two games.

O’Connor, who had already racked up 0-13, had another plan in mind. He wanted more than just the insurance point. Instead of following orders, he planted the ball into the centre of the net to leave Galway with no way back, and ensure his side finished with a flourish.

“I think he wanted to do his own thing,” Cahill remarked to the media after the game. What more could be said to sum up the player who had just captured his third man-of-the-match award in seven days, following on from MVP performances in Tipp’s league opener against Dublin, and for UL against UCC in the Fitzgibbon Cup. 

Between all three games, O’Connor put 1-33 on the board, with the bulk of his work coming from the half-forward line.

Even as UL’s Fitzgibbon Cup three-in-a-row bid fell short against Mary I in last weekend’s final, O’Connor still left his mark on the game with a haul of 1-8, including a brilliant goal when his side was trailing by seven points.

For a man so crucial to UL’s back-to-back triumphs in the 2022 and 2023, it was just by chance that he came to be in the squad. UL manager Brian Ryan was advised to offer O’Connor a call-up by UL and Tipperary player Bryan O’Mara, who first put the Moyne-Templetuohy man on Ryan’s radar.

“He asked me to contact this good Tipperary hurler who was just coming on the scene. This was after Covid so there was no hurling in the previous year so lads moved through college and sometimes, they can slip through. 

“I called him and he came down. Both himself and Bryan were outstanding that year and the following year. He’s been a very good servant to UL and Fitzgibbon for the past three years. He’s played all 15 Fitzgibbon games for us.

“He has blossomed with the confidence the Fitzgibbon Cup gave to him.”

Once he was in, O’Connor became fully invested in the UL cause. He rarely missed a training session, and his consistency from placed balls impressed Ryan all the more. His towering height was a natural asset too. Ryan has clocked him at between 6’5” and 6’6”, making him a useful target for puckouts to go along with the rest of his strengths as a forward.

“He’s quite mobile across the whole half-forward line,” Ryan continues.

gearoid-oconnor O'Connor in action for Fitzgibbon Cup. Tom Maher / INPHO Tom Maher / INPHO / INPHO

“For certain players, the Fitzgibbon Cup can catapult them onto the inter-county stage to showcase players. He is one player that has taken full advantage of Fitzgibbon campaigns. That definitely helped his Tipperary career and Liam Cahill has been watching those matches.”

Managing O’Connor’s schedule has been a cornerstone of his form so far this year. O’Connor explained to the media after Tipperary’s win over Galway that he has been exempt from the heavy fitness drills at training, allowing him to commit all of his energy to matches for both teams. The arrangement has clearly worked considering O’Connor’s output on the scoreboard along with his clean bill of health so far in 2024. 

“The Tipp management get first call [on Gearóid] and that’s where the training takes place,” Ryan explains.

“Gearóid comes to us then for the tactical sessions but by and large, the walk throughs are not heavy physically because we’re very conscious of the workload that all inter-county players are doing at this time of the year.

“You have to be cognisant of that and take it on board. Players respect managements then for doing that.”

O’Connor isn’t a talent who has emerged from nowhere. He’s no stranger to senior championship hurling for Tipperary after finishing sixth in the scoring charts of the 2023 Munster round-robin series. He scored 1-19 for his county, along with one point from play in their All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Galway.

But these past few weeks have belonged to O’Connor as the conversation around his name focuses on the heights he might reach for the Premier County as the season progresses. Hype is a dangerous fog for any player showing promise but it’s a path O’Connor can’t avoid. Navigating it with caution is all he can do, but Ryan doesn’t foresee any problems for the starlet who “goes about his business in a very professional manner”.

Tipperary are blessed with plenty of scoring threats in the form of Jake Morris, Mark Kehoe and the experienced Noel McGrath. Jason Forde is their resident free-taker, but O’Connor has all the attributes to put himself forward for the job. And in the wake of Séamus Callanan’s retirement, there’s a vacancy in the team for a standout forward to lead the charge.

“He has that potential, provided he remains injury-free,” Ryan says about what the future holds for the in-form O’Connor. “He’s a big physical unit and would pose problems for backlines. He can pop up out on the wing and he’s deadly accurate with the ball when he gets them. He’s a very unselfish player. He’s continuously laying off the ball to the man in the better position. 

“We had that last Wednesday in Ennis [Fitzgibbon Cup semi-final] when Gearóid got the ball, came through one or two tackles, laid the ball off to Colm O’Meara coming in who put it over the bar. He has the bigger picture thinking. The score is important and it doesn’t really matter who gets it.”

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