Sunday 30 April 2017

'I don't see it as a disadvantage that I didn't play hurling' - O'Connor

Fintan O'Connor: defying logic. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Fintan O'Connor: defying logic. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Michael Verney

When trawling down the list of senior hurling managers throughout the country there's one glaring difference about Kerry boss Fintan O'Connor - he never played hurling.

It would normally be deemed a basic requirement for an inter-county post but O'Connor has been defying common logic for over a decade and starts his first season in the Kingdom with a glowing CV behind him.

His managerial career had the humblest of beginnings, however. Born in Kildare, where he played football with Kilcullen, he moved on to college in Waterford IT where he became rugby coach before eventually progressing to AIL side Waterpark.

Hurling wasn't on O'Connor's radar but when Blackwater Community School principal Denis Ring approached his new teacher to get involved in 2003, he jumped at the opportunity and hasn't looked back since.

O'Connor has watched players of the calibre of Jamie Barron and Maurice Shanahan pass through his hands before stepping up as coach/selector with Derek McGrath's Déise side for the past two years.

His rise has been meteoric, but far from traditional, and having had minimal knowledge of the game's intricacies, he now finds himself immersed in it.

"If they were going the conventional route people would say someone who has had nothing to do with hurling shouldn't be involved at county level and I'm lucky that Derek and Denis gave me that experience," he said.

"It's a very unusual way to get into it but I loved in from day one and if you love something enough and you're prepared to learn and listen to people then anything is possible. I don't see it as a disadvantage that I didn't play.

"Other fellas are playing since they were four or five and they've got an education in it for that long whereas I didn't start paying that much attention until 17 or 18 and I'm willing to learn from anyone.

"And funnily enough, I probably bore fellas now with hurling because all I want to do is talk about it and listen to others talking about it. My friends are quick to remind me and slag me about how things have changed.

"The players in Waterford gave me great respect and in fairness to the club teams I've been involved with, no one ever turned around and said, 'Sure what would you know about it you never played'. I haven't had to deal with the snobbery I suppose."

After taking a "crash course" through successful stints with WIT, Fourmilewater and Cappoquin, he hopes to expand on the progress made by Eamonn Kelly and Ciarán Carey and take the Kingdom to the next level.

"They want to compete against the top teams and Sunday against Cork and the following week against Clare is as good a place to start as any," he said.

It won't be easy but you have to start somewhere, as Fintan O'Connor knows only too well.

Irish Independent

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