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'He just asked me if I was going to retire and I kind of said ‘no, why would I?’

Three-time All-Star winner Noel Connors is getting set to look on as Waterford prepare for the 2020 championship.

Noel Connors at the launch of the Electric Ireland GAA Minor Championships
Noel Connors at the launch of the Electric Ireland GAA Minor Championships
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Updated Oct 14th 2020, 1:23 PM

NOEL CONNORS DOES not feel he will close the door on his Waterford hurling career as he gets set to watch on from the outside for the 2020 championship campaign in the aftermath of being left out of new manager Liam Cahill’s squad.

A three-time All-Star winning defender, the experienced figure was a high-profile omission twelve months ago when Cahill took charge.

For the first time in over a decade Connors was not involved as a Waterford senior side began their league campaign earlier this year.

But with the season interrupted by Covid-19, it is only now Connors is being forced into a new role for the championship with Waterford getting ready to play Cork in a Munster semi-final on 31 October.

He admits it was ‘a shock’ at the time when Cahill informed him of his plans during a phone conversation. But the 2010 Munster senior winner has accepted the decision while still feeling it would be difficult to turn down an opportunity to line out for his county in the future.

“I don’t know would I ever close the door. I think if you ask any player who has played for Waterford or any county team in the past, if they were asked would they play with their county again, I don’t think too many would say no.

“You grow up wanting to play for your county and it’s obviously been a dream and I don’t think any fella would turn their back on their county.

“It was a shock. I was the captain in 2019 and that, but look, that was Liam’s decision. Look to be honest, it was just something that completely hit me by surprise, it wasn’t something that I was expecting obviously.

“I don’t know Liam, I’ve never met him before, it was the only conversation I’ve ever had with him. I was just after coming back from a camogie match at about 8, my little cousin was playing club camogie county final and I came back and the phone was ringing.

“Generally I don’t like answering the phone in the night time but it was Liam, just a brief conversation. He just asked me if I was going to retire and I kind of said ‘no, why would I?’ Obviously, like, I’ve been playing for 11 years. I’ve missed two matches in 11 years, one through injury against Laois when Derek started and one against Cork last year when we didn’t have much to play for and it was a complete change of the 15 and that was it really.

“I would have got a couple of texts off the lads do you know, wondering was it true and that but look it is what it is.”

liam-cahill Waterford hurling manager Liam Cahill Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Connors has found that he has had plenty off the pitch to keep him occupied as he adjusted to a change in his playing status.

“It’s funny. I was actually talking to one of the lads yesterday who would have played with Waterford for a good few years, Stephen Roche.

“Stephen is a teacher in St Paul’s up the road, and I’m obviously in WIT lecturing. We’re actually busier now than we were when we were playing, because when you know when you’re playing, you are solely focused on playing and making sure that you’re going through your process and your routine.

“Now you’re focusing on your career, you’re looking at research in my instance, I’m getting married next year, I’ve an 18-month child at home. So your perspective completely changes. I find myself busier than I was when I was with Waterford, which is strange enough.”

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A club campaign with Passage was his primary hurling focus of late and he agrees his personal transition was eased somewhat by the absence of a summer championship.

“It’s been like a strange year in many ways. It’s great, we were lucky enough to have a club championship and it was great to kind of go back and fully commit to it. When it (the championship) doesn’t happen it’s very hard to kind of comment on but maybe it was (easier).

“Most people were more concerned with health and the wellness of people around them, their family and close friends. I suppose sport was very much at the back of peoples’ minds. But I’d imagine it probably would have been a very different and difficult situation to watch summer hurling and not be involved in some capacity.”

Passage made good strides in the Waterford senior championship to contest the final but they then became the latest team swept away by the county’s dominant force in Ballygunner.

noel-connors-and-kevin-mahony Noel Connors in action for Passage in the Waterford senior final against Ballygunner. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“To be honest and without sounding too much of a conformist in all of this, most people were content enough just to play club championship. We were happy enough, to get back, do a bit of training obviously together. The final certainly didn’t go the way we wanted it to go, but look we were competing against a team that has as close to an inter-county set-up as you’d get at club level.

“They are like a superclub within a small rural county. We are all in the chasing pack. If you take Ballygunner out of Waterford – which we would all like to do at some stage – you’d have a really interesting championship between the likes of ourselves, De La Salle, Mount Sion, Roanmore, Lismore, a lot of teams in the chasing pack that are of a very similar level, they are just a couple of gears ahead of us.”

Connors is not the only recent Waterford departure with Maurice Shanahan another omitted when Tipperary native Cahill took charge while Brick Walsh, Philip Mahony and Brian O’Halloran are other retirements over the last year.

The 30-year-old still feels Waterford have a strong core in their current team with the return to the knockout format a potential help in their preparation.

“There’s still a very strong team that would have came from Derek. Obviously you’ve SOK (Stephen O’Keeffe), the likes of Darragh Fives, you have the two Bennetts, you have Tadhg, you have Kevin, you’ve Jamie Barron, you’ve Conor Gleeson. You still have all those lads that are involved that would have played a massive role in Waterford getting to the All-Ireland final back in 2017. There’s still a lot of players there that have a huge amount of experience. Pauric Mahony, Shane Fives, all these lads, that have been probably there for eight, nine, ten years maybe.

“The narrative out there is that you have to win your home games and with that it brings a lot of pressure whereas you’re preparing say for one match, you can focus all your energy and attention towards that. So it’s very much like traditional hurling, when I started it was very much about trying to win your matches to get to a Munster final and if you didn’t you got a backdoor system. It’s very much focused on one specific match and you put all your energy getting into a position where you can try and win that match.”

Noel Connors was speaking at the launch of the Electric Ireland GAA minor championships, where he will be a judge for the hurling panel this year.

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Fintan O'Toole

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