Noel Connors laughs off Deise 'Donegal of hurling' jibe
Published 15/04/2015 | 02:30
The Donegal of hurling? Noel Connors laughs at the most recent branding he has heard of Waterford's tactical approach, but if their style of play is going to see some brickbats come their way, then he's fine with that.
Waterford have added an extra layer of security to their defensive effort. It mightn't please the purists but the benefits have been plain to see.
It's only a year ago since they were preparing for a relegation play-off that they would lose to Dublin, conceding four goals in the process.
Now they are in the league semi-finals and having already seen off Division 1A opposition in Galway, have something of a free shot at Tipperary in Sunday's Allianz NHL semi-final at Nowlan Park.
Their game-plan is based on, he says, work rate and selflessness rather than an innate negativity.
After a miserable league last year, their only win in the championship came against Laois, so Connors was happy when they decided to change things up.
"I was just told it was the Donegal way of playing hurling, and I was kind of laughing to myself," says the Waterford IT PhD student.
"It's the first time I really came across it. Obviously I knew there was players coming back the field and all that kind of stuff.
"But it's not the fact that we go out with the intention of being extremely defensive or anything like that.
"We go out with the want to get on the ball and really work hard so if that takes a corner-forward at times coming out to half-back and trying to get a block. ... If it takes a half-forward going into the half-back line and winning a ball, that's what you have to do to win.
"I suppose Eoin Larkin is a prime example of an individual that's doing it for years."
Last year was a learning curve. Waterford have talented youngsters who have won All-Ireland minor medals and Croke Cups as well as Fitzgibbon medals but throwing them in en masse, coupled with the loss of a handful of experienced players, meant they were gasping for air when operating at the highest altitude.
"The foundations of the team has come from successful underage teams and then you had a lot of people who were quite successful at colleges level with De La Salle, the Waterford colleges and Blackwater," explains Connors.
"We're quite fortunate to have a few older lads as well.
"They've great experience which is definitely required with the likes of Brick, Kevin (Moran) and Shane O'Sullivan, who has been there for quite a long time now.
"(Manager) Derek McGrath's first year was just as challenging for him as it was for us and he learned quite a lot over the 12 months.
"We did too in that we were probably quite young and naive at the time, lacking a small bit of experience to an extent.
"However, that was going to come together over the winter and lads knuckled down and realised the task ahead."
If the neutrals are unimpressed, the Waterford public seem engaged again - much to Connors' delight.
"The only game we won last year in the championship was against Laois. I suppose it's like every other sport: when you're successful you follow your team and when you're kind of in a bad place you're reluctant enough to go to matches," he says.
"This year has been the opposite - we've been successful in a few games and people have rowed in behind us.
"It has been great and definitely worth a point or two in every match to hear the crowd getting behind you.
"Talking to a few lads after the match it's fantastic and long may it last."