Waterford’s Connors won’t let All-Ireland dream weigh heavy on shoulders

Corner-back hopes to bring two long journeys to successful conclusion in September

Waterford hurler Noel Connors is on brink of finishing his PhD. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Waterford hurler Noel Connors is on brink of finishing his PhD. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

 

Noel Connors has been at college so long that he’s starting to wonder which will come first; his graduation or his first pension payment.

This will be the Waterford defender’s eighth consecutive year at college, though the end line is finally in sight in his pursuit of a PhD in “self-identified leaders and their autodidact practices”.

He hopes to have his thesis wrapped up by September, which raises the intriguing prospect of a potential double graduation and the sight of the Waterford hurlers, of which he is one, simultaneously throwing their caps in the air.

Right now, it’s all about managing expectations for double All Star Connors, who is potentially facing into the most memorable year of his life.

Long slog

“Hopefully in September I will finish the PhD but it doesn’t bother me too much once it’s finished within the three years,” said Connors. “It doesn’t really worry me too much if it goes to Christmas time, as long as I have it done before December I will be happy. It has been a long slog. I’ve been in college eight years, the reality is hitting home that you soon have to get a job.”

There’s not so much flexibility on the hurling front. Waterford need to turn up and win their games if they’re to end their long wait for All-Ireland honours. But Connors (26) is trying to take that in his stride too and not to allow expectation to press down on his shoulders.

“There’s certainly an expectation there but when you sit back the expectation was already there anyway. It goes with the territory,” said Connors.

“The players have all been there before so I think that’s probably something we need to voice between ourselves and say that we need to maybe sit back and relax a small bit and realise that we haven’t won one since ’59. It’s not something that you can just walk up to Croke Park on the first Sunday in September and take it away. There’s always a lot of ups and downs along the way and you’ve seen that over the last number of seasons.”

Breakthrough

It’s hard not to be optimistic about Waterford’s chances though. They are a county, not just a senior team, on the up, building on the 2013 All-Ireland minor triumph, as well as last season’s under-21 breakthrough. All the while the seniors have been on a steady incline of improvement, with Kilkenny twice denying them a place in the All-Ireland final. Connors, again, is keen to temper over-optimism.

“Tipperary were incredible from the very first game to the very last one in 2016 and that’s something that Kilkenny have been doing for years,” he said.

“So we’re all still trying to get up to that. They [Tipperary] are probably a step or two ahead of everyone else so we’ll endeavour to try and reach that. Tipperary are the team to beat at the minute and there’s a chasing pack of quite a number of teams that people are kind of writing off.”

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