Noel Connors retains complete faith in Waterford’s system
Experienced defender wary of Dublin’s challenge in Sunday’s quarter-final
Waterford’s Noel Connors in action with Cork’s Patrick Horgan. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
It was 10 years ago when Dublin travelled to Walsh Park for the Group B qualifier and Waterford beat them 4-17 to 1-3 (and that’s not a misprint). Only three Dublin players scored, compared to nine for Waterford, and even if Dublin were in the midst of a managerial crisis, it was obviously not among their finest hours.
Ten years later and almost everything has changed, at least in terms of personnel. Connors only joined the Waterford panel four years later, and his immediate reference to their rivalry is to last year when Dublin travelled to Walsh Park for the Division 1A relegation play-off – and this time beat Waterford, 4-13 to 1-17.
“To me, that shows what strength and ability they have,” says Connors. “To come to Waterford and beat us. And Dublin are after having a lot more competitive games in Division 1A since then.
“Okay, they didn’t show up the second day against Galway, I think they alluded to that quite a bit, in the press. The first 10 minutes was just the horror of where you kind of fall asleep. And Galway, being Galway, capitalised on it.
“But then Dublin showed their pure aggression and pure steel against Limerick. That’s a Limerick team who were within a score of being in an All-Ireland final. So you have to look at Dublin that way, putting that up, against one of the best teams in the country, and coming out the better end of it.
“And Ger Cunningham coming into it has brought something different, and you can see the kind of style of hurling Dublin are playing. They’re very robust, extremely fit and physical, and I think they use their strengths extremely, extremely well. And they have a fantastic panel there, which they use quite well.”
“Unfortunately in the last, five, 10 minutes, Tipperary kind of showed their experience. While we were just carrying the ball into tackles, and maybe in the last few minutes, were hitting ball into the full forward line, when Tipp had a stone wall put up. That’s just inexperience, really. We probably could have taken our points, or maybe tried to sneak a goal at a different stage, rather than pumping the ball in high.”
But Waterford haven’t gone back to the drawing board since losing to Tipp. The style of hurling that had left them unbeaten in 2015 up to that game is hardly broken, so why fix it?
“ I’d say we would just stick to what we’re used to rather than change just because we had a defeat. A lot of people had Tipp as favourites and that was probably fair enough because between themselves and Kilkenny, they’ve been the bench mark for the past few years.
“So I don’t think we should change. We were playing one of the best teams in the country. No doubt you want to win but you have to be a realist as well. We’re relatively young. We’re still a forming team. So we’ll take things on the chin, build on these things, and drive them forward and make them into strengths for future years.”
“Everyone had the firm belief we could get back in together after losing to Tipp, relatively quick, have the minds focused,” says Connors. “We’re still in the place we wanted to be, at the start of the year. We’re still in line for the first Sunday in September. That hasn’t changed.
“And sometimes you get beaten you do learn more, because when you win, you probably don’t critically analyse yourself, because you are probably on that kind of happy buzz. We were very disappointed to lose when there was a title on the line, but there’s plenty of stuff left in the lads, plenty of desire and passion and fuel. Everybody wants to go on and be successful.”
Win or lose on Sunday, Connors has complete faith in the style of manager Derek McGrath.
“You have to be a realist. It’s going to take another couple of years for this Waterford team to realise its potential. It’s a learning process for everyone.
“Derek is after learning so much and we’re after learning so much in the space of 12 months that it’s stuff that you can take forward for the rest of your careers . . . . when you get setbacks, get up and dust yourself off, and be better than what you were.”