The setback year that made Connolly the player he is

The setback year that made Connolly the player he is
Luke Connolly of Nemo Rangers in action against Thomas Quilligan of Newcastle West during the AIB Munster GAA Football Senior Club Championship Quarter-Final match between Nemo Rangers and Newcastle West at Mallow GAA Grounds in Mallow, Cork. Photo by Michael P Ryan/Sportsfile

2015 was a year to forget for Luke Connolly in the Nemo shirt — but, unlike every other Nemo interview you’ll have read this week, his torment with that season is not exclusively tied to their gut-wrenching Munster final defeat to Clonmel Commercials.

Connolly describes 2015 as a “fairly negative year for me on the whole”, but he also recognises it as arguably the most important season in his development and growth as a footballer.

Despite being part of the Cork panel earlier that year, the stylish inside-forward was left out of Nemo’s starting XV for the aforementioned provincial decider. He was introduced at half time, converted one free, but was unsuccessful with others.

Trudging off the Mallow field following Michael Quinlivan’s injury-time winner for the Tipp men, Connolly concedes he was more preoccupied with his own dip in form than Nemo’s season having been brought to such a cruel halt.

Injury had forced him out of Nemo’s championship opener, the first in a string of niggles, bumps, and bruises that would frustrate him in the months ahead. He missed their subsequent two outings against Douglas, was introduced as a half-time sub in the quarter-final hammering of Nick’s, played his first full championship game of the year in the semi-final, but following that was a hamstring injury which saw him limp out of the county final after 12 minutes.

Injuries, though, were only part of the problem. The simple truth is that Connolly was not enjoying his football. He had developed a cavalier, take-it-or-leave-it attitude towards the game.

“2015 was a time when I wasn’t enjoying football. I went back playing soccer for a small period and I was enjoying that,” Connolly begins.

“I fell out of love with the game of football for a while in 2015. I was humming and hawing, being in and being out. It was a confidence thing. You can go through those phases where stuff just isn’t going right. I wasn’t playing well or doing the business. I was kinda getting into my own head, feeling sorry for myself a small bit, when what I needed to do was knuckle down and work hard.

“That year, I felt I was becoming an important part of the [Nemo] team, but when that didn’t happen and I was falling in and out of the team, which, up to that point, I hadn’t been used to, you see yourself as not being cut out for this or, maybe, I’m not as good as I thought I was.”

His reaction to their Munster club final defeat was symptomatic of where he was at as a footballer.

“I spent most of the Munster club campaign trying to recover from the county final hamstring injury. I’d get back, then there would be a recurrence, get back, recurrence, and so on. The right decision was made in not starting me. It was definitely a day to forget, even outside of the result, on a personal level.

“I was probably a bit selfish in my thought process back then and probably didn’t understand the magnitude of the game. As I walked away from it, I was more self- involved, to be perfectly honest with you.”

A year to forget, yes, but one so crucial in moulding the footballer Connolly is today. His willingness to address and correct a mindset which, for a time, prioritised the individual over the collective is rooted in a determination that there would never be another 2015.

“The year was more of a wake-up call than anything. It was the year it all came to a halt. It was either work hard and begin to improve, or I could have fallen away from it.

“Looking back, it was a more valuable year than I appreciate. A learning curve, definitely. Knuckling down and just contributing to the team in whatever way possible has helped me to realise better potential and helped me to get my game to a certain level, as opposed to just focusing on myself.”

The 27-year-old was the star pupil of Nemo’s recent county final win, twice finding the opposition net in the space of 40-odd seconds. And despite offering far less on the scoresheet last time out against Austin Stacks, he was just as content with what he brought to the table.

“I’m in a much better place than 2015. In the team and group we have, it would be hard not to. It is always enjoyable to go back playing with your club, but it is particularly enjoyable playing with a club like Nemo and the football we play.

“At the end of the day, you are just a cog in the wheel and, in a team like Nemo, it is important to remember that. It’s about contributing as best you can to the collective. In the semi-final, I scored a point, but I was happy with what I contributed. Going into Munster football in November and December, any contribution you can give is as valuable as anything.”

He concluded: “Any opportunity you get to get back to the All-Ireland series, you will do your damndest to take. There are enough fellas in the club who you’d chat to who have [won club All-Irelands]. You want to make your own legacy in the club.”

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