Sunday 24 September 2017

Connors determined that 'momentous occasion' won't pass him by this time

Waterford's Noel Connors: Appreciating the final
Waterford's Noel Connors: Appreciating the final

Tomas McCarthy

Blink and you'll miss it. The 2009 Munster final flashed past Noel Connors. 40,330 packed into Semple Stadium on that afternoon as Tipperary beat Waterford 4-14 to 2-16.

The significance of the occasion was lost on the Deise's novice corner-back - when he retraces his steps, he realises that he didn't drink it all in.

"I was just after turning 19. I didn't really cherish it as much as I should have. I was probably very young and naïve. You probably don't realise what a momentous event you're in.

"Another aspect to that was the fact that I was going in with lads that had been there so many times before - I was fortunate enough to play in four Munster finals in a row and it was probably something that you thought was going to happen on an annual basis.

"But that was quickly brought back when we weren't winning for about three years.

"Looking back, it was a blink of an eye and it was over. It's definitely something that drives you forward this year to realise that Munster finals are a fantastic occasion - you need to really relish them."

Home advantage didn't play a huge part in Tipperary's victory six years ago as Connors recalls, and he is not bothered about playing in Semple Stadium this time around.

"No absolutely not. I think that's irrelevant. Tipp were the better team," he concedes.

"Four points - how much of that would have depended on the crowd or the surroundings? I don't think that would have made too much of a difference.

"It's very simple, it's the team that goes out there and performs that wins so I think the surroundings are kind of irrelevant.

"We probably play as many Championship matches there as Tipperary do. I don't think it's going to have a massive bearing on it. It's a hurling field.

"People will probably get carried away with home advantage and the aspects that come with that. As players, it's a million miles away from the thoughts at the back of your mind."

In his debut year, Connors - who has only missed one Championship game since making his bow -tracked Andrew O'Shaughnessy, Eoin Kelly, Damien Hayes and Richie Power. He finished that campaign with an All Star nomination.

The Passage defender was among the chosen 15 in 2010 after he shut out Patrick Horgan in back-to-back Munster finals.

Connors regards a formidable Kilkenny duo as the toughest opponents he has faced.

"It would be someone like Richie Power or Eoin Larkin. Their overall application to the game is phenomenal," he says.

"They have everything in terms of speed, touch and their aggression. Their ability to win high or low ball is just phenomenal."

In a watertight Waterford defence, with an average of only 17 points conceded per game, Connors is on course for a second All Star - he restricted Horgan to one point from play over the League final and Munster semi-final.

The sticky man marker may encounter the in-form John O'Dwyer on this occasion.

"He is probably one of the most natural forwards in the game," Connors claims. "He has fantastic wrists and just everything about him. . . his ability to read the game is phenomenal.

Whoever he is marking, though, with a second provincial medal on offer, a more mature Connors won't allow this Munster final to pass him by.

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