Having been named the Waterford captain for the 2019 season, it naturally came as a shock to Noel Connors when new manager Liam Cahill informed him that he would not be part of the squad for the 2020 competitions.
Connors made his debut for the Waterford senior side in 2009 and in the following 11 seasons, he only missed two games. The three-time All-Star recipient was one of the Deise’s most reliable defenders and given their poor record over the past two years, the 30-year-old was most likely looking forward to a fresh start under a new regime.
However, in October of last year, shockwaves were sent around the GAA world when it was announced that both Connors and Maurice Shanahan were dropped by the Tipperary native.
“I was at a camogie county final about this time last year and I came home and the phone was ringing”, he explained.
“So I picked up the phone and it was Liam and it was the first time that I had any engagement with Liam, I had never met Liam before and he asked me if I was going to retire.
“I said ‘No, why would I?’
“And he said ‘You’re not in our plans going forward this year.’
“To be honest, I was a bit shocked. I didn’t say anything back and he said ‘Look, we’re going with youth’. I told him I didn’t see it coming and I painted a picture, I’m the captain for the 2019 season, I missed two matches in 11 years, one through injury back when Derek [McGrath] started and the other was when we had nothing to play for.
“It was a brief, five-minute conversation and that was it.”
Connors admitted that it took him a long time to come to terms with the situation but in the months that followed, he eventually made peace with Cahill’s decision.
“It was definitely something that was on my mind a lot for a couple of months. I suppose you go through… I wouldn’t say a grieving process because no one has died but it’s a similar enough process, you get frustrated and then a small bit upset and then you learn to accept it, so on and so forth.
“Afterwards, other things take priority and you put things into perspective and you get on with life then.”
Despite being dropped from the panel, Connors insists that he will still support the team, especially since many of the players are his friends.
“Irrespective of what has happened, these are people who are putting their lives on the line for Waterford hurling and that’s priority number one for me.
“I’m not going to not watch because I’m not involved. I’ve probably watched more matches over the last six months than I’ve ever watched in the last 11 years because the last thing you want to do when you’re playing is watch more matches and think about more matches.”
Connors was speaking at the launch of the 2020 Electric Ireland GAA Minor Championships where he was announced as part of the judging panel for the Player of the Week initiative as well as the awarding of the Electric Ireland GAA Minor Team of the Year in Hurling and Football.
The Passage club man played three season with the Waterford Minor team and he maintains that learning to blend into a structured team environment is as important as winning silverware at the grade.
“It mightn’t necessarily mean that you win an All-Ireland or a Munster Final but the preparation and the skills and the attributes that are developed over a very short period of time, will definitely stand to you going forward.
“So what you learn within those four, five, six months playing with you Minor team, you probably wouldn’t learn those skills and develop them as quick if you were with a club team for maybe 10 years. It’s that detailed and it’s that specific, that structured.
“You’d be surprised how close-knit a team you become because I suppose it’s that real, first experience and when it’s a first experience, it’s something that you hold onto.”
Former Waterford Minor hurler and Senior hurling captain, Noel Connors, was speaking at the launch of the Electric Ireland GAA Minor Championships.
Electric Ireland is celebrating the seventh year of its landmark #GAAThisIsMajor campaign, with the return of the Player of the Week initiative and the Minor Star awards.
The awards will announce the Electric Ireland GAA Minor Hurling and Football Teams of The Year as well as a special 2020 award to recognise the outstanding off the pitch contribution of one young Minor in the country who has gone above and beyond for their community during Covid-19.