Fintan O'Connor (centre) with Derek McGrath (left) and Dan Shanahan (right). Morgan Treacy/INPHO
Hurling Tutor

No playing career, Kilkenny admiration, coaching past pupils and Cork school link

Fintan O’Connor is the man coaching Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-finalists.

DEREK MCGRATH IS well known as Waterford senior hurling manager and selector Dan Shanahan has a storied playing career behind him.

But what of Fintan O’Connor, the county’s senior hurling trainer?

Ahead of their Kilkenny showdown, he talks the absence of a personal hurling playing career, coaching players he taught in school in Lismore, working now in his day job with autistic children and what he’s learned from Cork’s Patrick Cronin.


1. Hurling background

“I have a strange background in hurling, I would have never played hurling myself. I only got involved in hurling when I started teaching in Lismore.

“It was my first introduction to hurling, seeing Maurice (Shanahan) walking around the corridor with his hurley. I suppose he would confess himself that he wasn’t the most academic student we had, but he was the best hurler we had.

“He was so enthusiastic, he just loved it and our principal was Denis Ring, he was coming from Colman’s, winning so many Harty’s and there was pressure on him to get a hurling culture in our school.

“The first year it was opened, with time constraints, he couldn’t commit to training the team and he asked me to take the hurling team. There wasn’t as many teachers in the school as there is now.

“I told him that I didn’t have much of a background but he said that he would show me a few drills and we took it from there. Young fellas never say to you that this is boring or dull, they just want to be out on the field. I just grew to love it.”

Denis Ring Current Cork minor hurling manager Denis Ring Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

2. Getting involved with Waterford

“I was looking at Maurice, and Jamie Barron and Stephen Bennett, and all the past pupils. I was thinking that I would love to be involved with them again now that they were developing and playing.

“When Derek asked me to come on board this year, I jumped at the chance. I had a few people saying that I was mad, that I was going to get grief.

“Derek said to me that people would advise you against it. I was never going to turn down a chance to work with the lads. Even last year, when we were losing games, when it was a bit of a struggle for them, the positivity of the players towards the set-up and what they were doing was unreal.”

Derek McGrath and Fintan O'Connor celebrate Derek McGrath and Fintan O'Connor after the win over Wexford in the league in March. Tommy Grealy / INPHO Tommy Grealy / INPHO / INPHO

3. Crazy golf and coaching enjoyment

“It has been massively rewarding from a personal point of view. It is lovely to see the lads I have known since school doing so well, and it is great to be enjoying what you are doing.

“We were out playing crazy golf in Tramore, it was like being at a school tour. The messing, the banter and the joking and you love being part of that.

“Look, I am the biggest child myself so, I was out messing with them, playing crazy golf. Sure everyone would want to part of that.”

Maurice Shanahan Waterford's Maurice Shanahan Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

4. Teaching current Waterford hurlers

“I taught the two Bennett’s, Maurice, Darragh Fives, Jamie Barron. Shane Fives was in Dungaravan, would have coached him the first couple of years in the Harty with Dungarvan colleges. Also Paudie Prendergast and Shane Roche.

“I had Paudie (Mahony), Stephen O’Keeffe and Jake (Dillon) in WIT in the Fitzgibbon last year.

“At school, I was known as Fintan. Nobody called me Mr O’Connor. It was very informal.

“When I was teaching Maurice, the discussion was where will I playing in the match on Wednesday or who are we playing next – it wasn’t about his homework or what he was being taught.”

Jamie Barron Waterford hurler Jamie Barron Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

5. The challenge of coaching former pupils

“I would have been close with the lads in the Fitzgibbon too, because we were going away for weekends and that sort of thing, so they were really positive.

“When I was sounding them out about coming in,they were all very positive. When you haven’t played, the last thing you want to do is lads coming in saying, who’s your man, what’s he talking about.

“But I knew the character of the lads. They wouldn’t be sulking or throwing a strop or saying I’m not listening to you.

“I was definitely more confident then coming in, even with the first team meeting here in January.”

6. Working with autistic children

“I am a teacher but I wouldn’t be a highly academic teacher. I work with the autistic kids in school actually, haven’t taught class in the last number of years.

“(I) used to teach Business studies and Maths and a little bit of PE. I would have great affinity with people that struggle or have difficulty in life, would like to see them treated equally.

“Enjoy working with them in school, it is great that they get the chance to go to a mainstream school.”

Eoin Murphy celebrates with the cup Eoin Murphy lifts the Fitzgibbon Cup in March 2014 Presseye / Declan Roughan/INPHO Presseye / Declan Roughan/INPHO / Declan Roughan/INPHO

7. Kilkenny inside track

“I know Eoin (Murphy) well from the Ftizgibbon. I’d have a massive respect for Kilkenny watching them, watching the way they work on the field, how they win and how the lose.

“Eoin typifies that too, he’s a lovely fella. I have a young fella here with me (Finn), he’s four or five and he loves Eoin because he would have came to Fitzgibbon matches.

“Eoin would have time for every young fella and time for everyone. He’s a nice, humble player.

“I think that’s why Kilkenny are as successful as they are; because they have fellas like Eoin Murphy that are willing to give time to young fellas and time to be humble.”

Patrick Cronin and Tadhg de Burca Patrick Cronin in action for Cork against Waterford in June James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

8. Cork hurling work mates after this summer’s clashes

“Denis is my boss and he’s good to me so I wouldn’t really brag with him!  Myself and Pa had a bit of slagging alright I suppose. When you are working with someone, I know how much work Pa puts into it.

“He was captain last year and he broke his hand, he had a funny tendon injury in his thumb earlier on in the year so he was wearing a cast and he missed two weeks work.

“I see what he eats and I see the effort he puts in. I was delighted for Pa that he played so well against us, but we got the result. It was perfect, I would be friendly with Pa in school and I love to see him doing well.”

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