Glen’s Conor Glass thriving now he’s back home in Derry

Midfielder returned from stint in the AFL to win a maiden senior medal with his club

Referee Seán Curran had barely called for full-time in the Derry county final, confirming Glen's maiden senior win, when Conor Glass broke down in tears.

There were tears of joy for sure but mostly relief that having jacked in an Australian Rules career with Hawthorn last year, he’d quickly engineered something tangible and truly meaningful for himself back at home.

The club win came on the back of a solid season with Derry who were promoted from Division 3 and who look now to be on the cusp of serious progress under Rory Gallagher.

That Glass is back home and that both his club and county are thriving is no coincidence, though whatever the powerful midfielder has contributed to the two set-ups since his return seems nothing compared to the peace of mind they’ve given him.

“It’s a complete relief,” said Glass at the launch of the AIB club championships. “It was just an amazing feeling. One of my goals coming home was to win a county title with Glen and to do it in my first year was something pretty special. Having your friends and family around you to celebrate was one of the main reasons why I came home and it was a relief at the end of the day.

“What I have in my first year back, even getting promotion with Derry, it just makes the transition a bit easier and keeps my mind a bit happier as well. If I hadn’t have got any success or if they’d have got relegated to Division 4 this year, I would have been questioning it and I probably would have headed back to be honest!”

Glass spent four and a half years with Hawthorn in the AFL, playing 21 times.

They were some of the happiest times of his life and some of the worst. The good stuff allowed him to conclude that it had been a great experience overall, while the negative stuff he put down to life experience.

There were games, for instance, in which he played poorly and was heavily criticised for on social media.

“I’m absolutely better for the experience,” said Glass, a second-year accountancy student. “Going through tougher times has made me who I am today. I’m obviously not engrossed in social media and I don’t take other people’s opinions to heart, especially boys that don’t really understand much about football. It’s normally just trolls and stuff on social media.

“I’m in a better place for it and any education I can pass on to any Gaelic players, or anyone really, about that sort of stuff I’ll do so.”

Anti-Irish

Abuse of sports people and athletes on social media is a problem here too, though Glass said it was worse in Australia and he felt there was an anti-Irish element to some of it.

“It would be worse in Australia because it’s a professional sport and they literally live and breathe the professional environment,” he said. “Because it’s your full-time job that’s when they’ll scrutinise you about . . . like, we got more abuse because we’re Irish and they [social media users] are probably a bit jealous because they didn’t make it to that level, whereas we’re coming from a completely different sport and yet they didn’t play there, where we are. Yeah, you get the trolls.”

Asked if he felt some abuse was simply because he was Irish, he nodded.

“That’s literally it, simply for being Irish,” he said. “It wasn’t our fault them coming over and scouting us. You’ve just got to deal with it, it’s always going to come in sport.”

Glass has big ambitions for Derry and a throwaway remark regarding Tyrone’s All-Ireland win underlines just how big those ambitions are.

“Watching Tyrone winning the All-Ireland wasn’t easy, it would have given a few players an extra boost going into the pre-season, it’ll give them a bit of motivation to put in a lot more effort because we don’t see that there’s much between us and Donegal, or us and Tyrone,” he said.

As for Glass himself, still just 24, he is a work in progress and has modelled himself on the very best, Dublin's Brian Fenton.

“Rory Gallagher actually told me to watch out for him and to watch his vision and watch his game,” he said. “That’s literally what I’ve done. I modelled my game on him and whatever he does well, I’ve tried to implement some of the stuff he does well into my game.

“He’s the type of player that gets a lot of turnovers but he hits the scoreboard a lot as well. And he has that fitness base of being able to get up and down the pitch.

“He is obviously a very versatile player. I have similar physical attributes to him and the more times I can get up and down the pitch, whether it is to create turnovers or to get on the scoreboard, I will do.”