Waterford’s Noel Connors has mindset to get pumped up again

Turning 26 today, the two-time All Star is a veteran among Waterford’s young guns

Waterford corner-back Noel Connors admits to being mentally drained after Sunday’s Allianz Hurling League final draw with Clare. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho.

Waterford corner-back Noel Connors admits to being mentally drained after Sunday’s Allianz Hurling League final draw with Clare. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho.

 

In the vapours of a 90-minute, 22-points-apiece draw, the mind carries just as much weight as the body. More, arguably. Noel Connors wasn’t on the ball for long spells of the league final against Clare last Sunday but the demands of the day don’t allow the brain a moment’s peace. Takes a while to Zen yourself right after an afternoon of that.

“Really, this week is about recovery and getting back focused,” he says. “There’s no point denying that the match on Sunday was very mentally draining. It was a final and there was a national title up for grabs so obviously it takes a toll physically but I think you feel it mentally more than anything else.

‘Mentally drained’

Connors turns 26 today, which makes him a Corporal Jones to the army of Pikes that populate the Waterford panel these days. He won his second All Star last year, five years after his first. Hurling has changed plenty across that small expanse of time, nowhere greater than in his role. Life was simpler when they sent him out to be a lock-down corner-back. There are far more bullet-points under his job description now.

“It’s kind of spilt up in terms of responsibility. The modern game is set up different. I probably do at times get put on to a fella to shadow him for a while but the reality is that there are so many different variations over the course of a game. I’d say if you looked back at it on Sunday with the way both teams play, I probably found myself on six or seven different fellas over the course of the 90 minutes.

Second Captains

“And every player is different. Some are quite good in the air, others are good at taking the ball down to themselves, others are better shooting off the back foot and so on. You have to factor all these things in and try and do that while you’re in an environment that is incredibly fast-paced and there’s so much noise going around. That’s an aspect of the mental preparation you have to put in.

“That’s just the reality. You’re never going to get to focus solely on one person because I think if you do that, you find yourselves fighting a lost battle straight away. Marking one player for a whole game is a very old-school, traditional view but if you do that, I think you’re probably fighting a lost battle.”

The drawn game took its own sweet time about reaching a decent pitch, although Connors doesn’t necessarily go with the theory that it was down to two similar teams aping each other’s style. Understandably, he’d like to think that the players had something to do with it.

“I think if you look at the hook and block count on Sunday, it was quite incredible to see how many there were. I think that’s maybe a better reflection on why the scores weren’t as free-flowing in the first half in comparison to the second half. I think that’s maybe just a small bit of game practice needed by both sides. You’re coming into the hard-ground games now after months of playing on soft ground so it probably takes a small bit of getting used to.

“There were other factors too – a strange wind was swirling around Thurles too on Sunday. Shots that would usually go over the bar were tailing off. Look, we probably did feel each other out but there are other variables. The commitment that both sides gave in terms of hooking and blocking and putting their bodies on the line was a factor too.”

Thoughtful watcher

“The likes of Shane Bennett and Paddy Curran, these young lads, they’ve been fascinating people to watch come in and put their shoulder to the wheel. And to do so in such a meaningful manner.

“They’re young lads so at that age they could very easily just come in and stay quiet and let things develop around them. But in fairness, each one of the lads that has come in is contributing and that’s a testament to Derek and the environment he has built.”

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