Monday 22 January 2018

Noel Connors: Waterford's time is now

Waterford hurler Noel Connors
Waterford hurler Noel Connors
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

They are a different animal now, Noel Connors explains. The young Waterford hurlers emerging from their successful underage and school teams expect different things now than those who went before. They expect to win.

Many of them were reared on a diet of top-grade success. And all the while they were watching Waterford's senior team compete at the highest level.

In some ways the team of Mullane, McGrath and Browne were trailblazers for the current crop. They helped the county win a first Munster title since the 1960s and also appeared in their first All-Ireland final in almost half a century. The bar in Waterford had been raised.

Even with expectation building after an unbeaten League campaign, a sense of calm surrounds the Waterford camp if their media dealings are anything to go by, even as they have had to contend with some high-profile injuries.

Pauric Mahony will miss out after his horror injury and the indications are that Maurice Shanahan is losing his race against time to be fit for Sunday's clash with Cork. Those are two big absences, not least because Shanahan would be in line to take over the free-taking duties from Mahony.

Still, there has been no sense of unrest. Connors puts that down to the big-game experience that already exists within the young squad and also to the impact of the management team, especially Dan Shanahan.

"He's worth his weight in gold and probably doesn't get recognition he deserves," Connors says.

"Part of that too is being so successful at schools and colleges level.

"Winning Harty and Fitzgibbon and other numerous things brings that sense of calmness about the squad.

"You look at Dublin football now, and it's similar. They were very successful coming up, broke through, and now they're the ultimate team to beat.

"When you have that winning mentality, it's the habit thing. You don't want to let it go."

Connors accepts there's an excitement building in Waterford again. It's an occupational hazard that comes with delivering only the county's third League title but he prefers to brand the mood in Waterford as "optimism" rather than expectation.

"There is probably some bit of a movement towards Waterford hurling again and certainly a level of optimism. But not to the extent were things are getting out of hand," he said.

Besides, there's sure to be a kick in Cork after they struggled so badly in the League decider.

"Everyone is going to raise their game come Championship and Cork being a good traditional team you wouldn't expect anything else really. You'd be foolish to think the match four weeks ago is going to have a massive bearing on this match."

Despite their relative youth, time won't wait, even for this talented group of Deise hurlers. This is Connors seventh season with the senior squad. He knows only how well time can slip by.

"You are in the twilight of it at 27/28, that is definitely coming down the road but you can't really depend too much on what's coming down the road," he said. "You take to the field on Sunday and you do your best as you can, and that's all that's in our heads.

"We are not going to think about peaking in five or six years because five or six years is too long a wait for everybody really."

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