O’Connor still haunted by the one that got away

O’Connor still haunted by the one that got away

It was Nicky English’s claim after Tipperary’s All-Ireland win that their semi-final defeat of Wexford was “for me, one of the best victories I ever saw from Tipp”.

Five points down, a man down, they somehow turned it around to reach the final and, once there, dispatched Kilkenny to regain the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

On the opposite side of that epic result was Wexford who won a breakthrough title themselves, the Leinster championship, yet still have a winter of regret ahead of them.

Rory O’Connor, gassed out and taken off in the closing minutes of that frantic semi-final, admitted he remains haunted by their failure to beat Tipp.

“Still have nightmares about it,” acknowledged Wexford forward O’Connor. “We’d won Leinster and we weren’t going to settle for that, you want more and more and that’s the cruel thing about sport, you don’t always get it.

“In that space of 10 minutes, when we were five points up with about 10 minutes to go, to only realise two days later how we went so far away from our game plan ourselves, I don’t know how we did it or what happened, it just felt like in two minutes on the pitch we slowly started pucking balls down on top of the Tipp lads, nearly making All-Stars out of them and letting them clear balls and they just clawed their way back into it.

“It was certainly team inflicted and it was the damage we did to ourselves on the pitch.

We didn’t keep playing spaces, that’s the annoying thing and the most upsetting thing, for Davy as well as us, how we just went from the game plan one small bit and it eventually lost us the game.

The Davy, of course, is Davy Fitzgerald who has agreed to return for a fourth season in charge.

Despite winning that breakthrough Leinster title — thanks in no small part to O’Connor who won the late penalty that Mark Fanning converted against Kilkenny — there’s still a clear sense of unfinished business.

The tale of the tape reads 16 championship games played under Fitzgerald in three seasons, seven of those won, six lost and three drawn.

It’s only now that O’Connor feels Wexford are really maturing as a unit and a Fitzgerald departure would have set all of that progress back.

“If a new manager had come in, it obviously then takes a year to set down your tone or your mark,” said O’Connor.

“Hopefully in your second year then, you try to go and win something. But having Davy for three years now, we know the standard he requires, there isn’t going to be any curveballs to it.

“And I think winning silverware this year is kind of after opening the eyes of the players to what we can achieve.”

Fitzgerald carefully weighed up his options after the championship though O’Connor said he never believed the ex-Clare and Waterford manager would jump ship to a rival.

“Firstly, you were listening to the Galway rumours but we know Davy so well now that we knew he wouldn’t do it,” said the 21-year-old. “If that was true, he would have let us know that he was in talks and stuff like that. There was no fear within our dressing-room that Davy was in contact for the Galway job. It spread like wildfire but we had no fear that he was going anywhere else.

We did fear he was going to take a year out and that he was going to leave us. But he wasn’t going to leave us for another county, he seems to be very much invested in us as a group of players that he couldn’t say no to us when we kind of plagued him to stay.

Last weekend’s All-Stars awards for Lee Chin and Diarmuid O’Keeffe franked the county’s progress in 2019 though O’Connor still can’t say with any certainty that an All-Ireland breakthrough is imminent.

“We could have been out of Leinster just as easy last summer and all going off on J1s or whatever,” he said.

“We drew three matches that we could have lost, it could have been done for us. So the margins are fine. You’re ultimately wanting to win the big one but you just can’t plan it.”

Rory O’Connor was speaking at the launch of the Gaelic Players Association StudentReport 2019.

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