Déise captain Noel Connors on changing inter-county times
Waterford senior hurling captain Noel Connors is relishing the prospect of home Munster Championship action in the wake of a best forgotten 2018 and a National League campaign which took the Déisemen all the way to Croke Park. Speaking during the recent launch of the GAA World Games, the Passage clubman, now in his 11th year at this grade, says he intends to keep his feelings in check when leading his county down the Walsh Park tunnel when facing Clare on Sunday week. “I don’t think it’ll be too emotional,” The way I’ll take it on is it’s another game – that’s not to downgrade the importance of being at home or being captain, it’s obviously a huge privilege and honour, but you can’t let the emotions take over because that’ll take up too much energy.”
Noel, who recently became a first time father following the birth of Cathal (congratulations to Noel and partner Siobhan Crotty on the arrival of their son, “a buster, he’s flying”), stated: “My job will be about trying to do the simple things right, which I’ve been trying to do for almost 11 years now with Waterford. That’s what it’s about for me.”
If farmers are considered an endangered species at senior inter-county level, so too, it would appear, are fathers, as Noel pointed out.
“Yeah, only Shane Fives, Kevin Moran and Brick Walsh have kids,” said ‘Noelie’. “It puts things in perspective, at times you’d be worrying about small things but if you’ve a child smiling up at you it puts a perspective on things. It’s brilliant.“You can use it as inspiration but it also makes you realise – without sounding cringey or clichéd – the important things in life, what a privilege it is to pull on a jersey and train with a great bunch of lads.”The sense of being closer the end of a career than its launch date is at least a fleeting thought for most players when the captaincy comes a calling. Becoming a parent almost certainly accelerates such thoughts by which time the significance of sport rightfully comes with an additional layer of context.
But more and more younger players are also weighing up their own life options before full-time work, a mortgage and relationship commitments anchor them: the impact of inter-county life has also increasingly come into the equation. “I think players are more conscious of wanting to travel, to have kids, to commit to their professions, to do other things,” said Noel Connors.
“You’re young for a short period and I suppose when you’re young you can become very narrow-minded and focused on one thing, other things take a back seat. Now players are more attuned to what they want, they’re more emotionally attuned to making decisions about what they want.”I mention the departure of Tom Devine from senior hurling due to his medical commitment, which prompts the Waterford captain to reference other high-profile case studies.
“The likes of Jack McCaffrey taking a year out, Shane O’Donnell was gone (to Harvard) for a while, those are lads who have to do other things outside their playing careers.” Looking down the line, Connors believes he’s probably part of the last generation of senior players who’ll extend their careers at this grade beyond the decade mark. “It’s happening more and more in terms of the age profile of lads retiring. When I started, in 2008, 2009, a lot of players were in their early-to mid-30s, and a lot of them were hitting their peak in their early 30s “Now you have lads retiring at 28, 29, 30, and it’s down to the mileage and demands placed on the body. I don’t think you’ll have too many lads in the next few years who’ll play much beyond eight years (at) inter-county (level) because of the demands on the body. They’re so intense and they’ve increased so much in recent years that it’ll be unsustainable.” (See Sport 2 for more)