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Dublin: 3 °C Tuesday 11 December, 2018
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From Hogan Cup football to Wexford senior hurlers in a year, teenager O'Connor points the way

Rory O’Connor has made a major impact off the bench in Wexford’s last two games.

REWIND TWELVE MONTHS and Rory O’Connor’s focus was on the Hogan Cup rather than the hurling league.

pjimage Rory O'Connor in action for St Peter's last year and for Wexford recently. Source: INPHO

In January last year, St Peter’s Wexford ended a 25-year wait to lift the Leinster colleges football crown.

O’Connor was central to that victory and would be integral to their All-Ireland series campaign. He crashed home a great goal in the semi-final in Inniskeen as they saw off Derry’s St Mary’s Magherafelt.

Source: officialgaa/YouTube

Their ambition to claim the Hogan Cup was only thwarted in Croke Park in April by a multi-talented St Brendan’s side that were bringing the silverware back home with them to Killarney for another year.

Rory O'Connor tackled by Lorcan McMonagle and Dara Moynihan Rory O'Connor up against St Brendan's duo Lorcan McMonagle and Dara Moynihan. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Last Sunday O’Connor was in the senior spotlight and demonstrating how his talent is flourishing. Wexford lost their talisman Lee Chin at half-time due to injury but his replacement O’Connor had matched the joint captain’s tally of 0-4 by the final whistle.

Three of O’Connor’s white flags were raised from open play. He wasn’t the only recent St Peter’s graduate to feature – defender Conor Firman started a year after captaining the schools football side – but O’Connor’s scoring salvo was crucial in swinging the spoils Wexford’s way on a day when last year’s Division 1B winners booked their quarter-final spot and went top of the Division 1A table.

The previous weekend he had been sprung from the bench in the 48th minute under the Semple Stadium floodlights, capping his rehabilitation from knee surgery last winter. The pace of his recovery has quickened allowing him to hit his stride as Wexford attack the league.

Rory O'Connor and Padraic Maher Rory O'Connor in action against Tipperary's Padraic Maher. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

Defeat was their lot against Tipperary but O’Connor picked off a point from play. There were glimpses of his capabilities – he was bright, busy and seeking to make things happen. The Clare game was a continuation of that form, embellished with a more decisive scoring touch.

He’s only 19-years-old and has yet to start a league outing for Wexford but O’Connor’s form has sparked excitement.

“This is a future star of Wexford,” remarked Henry Shefflin on RTÉ on Allianz League Sunday.

“All these scores look very simple but he did them, the economy of just putting over the bar, left and right and I think he’s going to be a massive future star for Wexford.

“Wexford made great progress last year. They need to build on it. So they need future players coming on and he’s definitely after today’s second-half performance, he’s one to be looking out for during the summer.”

This may be his debut league campaign but O’Connor has already sampled the heat of championship. Last July on the weekend when Páirc Uí Chaoimh opened the doors to the world after an extensive makeover, O’Connor was pushed into action at midfield by Davy Fitzgerald.

Davy Fitzgerald Davy Fitzgerald during last year's All-Ireland quarter-final tie. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Wexford lost to Waterford but O’Connor’s dynamic display pleased his manager.

“We probably kept the team a long time. The reason is you’ve a young fella of 18 and I wanted to give him every chance possible not to be kind of picked upon and no one was expecting (him).

“To see a young 18-year-old doing that, he had some unreal great moments he had between hits and scores. He was really good.”

Rory’s brother Jack was stationed at wing-forward on the senior side last Sunday. His other brother Harry captained the Wexford U21′s that reached last July’s Leinster final.

Jack O'Connor with Niall Deasy and Seadna Morey Jack O'Connor in action against Clare players Niall Deasy and Seadna Morey last Sunday. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The trio all started when St Martin’s ended Oulart’s reign of supremacy in Wexford club hurling last October. Their father John and uncle George won All-Ireland senior medals when Wexford made that golden breakthrough in 1996.

George’s sons Barry also played a key role in last year’s county final triumph while other O’Connor cousins, Patrick and Joe, were also pivotal.

After emerging from Wexford last autumn, St Martin’s bounded onto the Leinster landscape where they were obstructed by a Cuala team that will contest the All-Ireland club final in a couple of weeks.

By then Rory O’Connor was hampered by that knee injury and sat out that game. His unavailability was not the only explanation for the ultimate 11-point margin that separated the Dublin and Wexford champions yet he was a serious loss for St Martin’s and would have given Cuala plenty to consider.

Absent then, he has returned now.

And Wexford are profiting as the 2018 season slips into gear.

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Fintan O'Toole

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