Rising star Lehane hails influence of Rebel greats

Conor Lehane shot the lights out Saturday evening in Páirc Uí Rinn, ending with seven points from play in the home side’s Allianz HL Division 1 win over Waterford.

Not much of a surprise to those who have seen him dazzle with his club, Midleton, but a fine introduction to the hurling world at large. Afterwards he paid tribute to the support he’s received from his older teammates.

“I couldn’t have asked for any more from them in the last while, they’ve been brilliant,” said Lehane.

“Usually I’m with Seán Óg [Ó hAilpín] at gym training. He’s there constantly with us, helping us and giving us advice. It’s a great help to have.

“Donal Óg [Cusack] is everything you’d want in a captain. He’s fair to every single player, treats everybody the same, and if you need any advice from him — or from Seán Óg — they’re both there to help you out in any way they can.”

Lehane added any likely media focus on him after Saturday night’s display wouldn’t be a distraction.

“At the end of the day it’s about playing the game, it’s not about what’s being written about you. Obviously the media is a big thing but the lads have stressed the importance ofkeeping a level head and not getting carried away.”

Midleton senior hurling selectorPeter Smyth will hope Lehane remains focused.

“From early on he was a very good prospect, a fine player, but oddly enough for someone who’s such a good forward, he’d have played a fair bit in goals,” he said. “We got to a minor county final a couple of years ago with a team including Luke O’Farrell, who’s also on the Cork panel, and Conor played in goal. He was a couple of years younger than the rest.

“His attitude is good, he’s very dedicated. You’d often hear about players that they always have thehurley in their hand, and sometimes that’s talk, but not with Conor. He’s completely focused on his hurling.

“Certainly there’s never a problem with him in training or anything — he concentrates on what he needs to do and gets it done.”

That stint in goal was short-lived, added Smyth.

“He was always going to play out the field — look at those three points at the end of that minor final a couple of years ago, after all.”

The game Smyth refers to, the county minor final against NaPiarsaigh, was when a lot of people began to take notice of Conor. He’d already played senior for Midleton, but with the minor decider in the melting pot his stylish scoring spree proved crucial.

“I suppose Cork will be trying to keep a lid on the hype around him,” said Smyth.

“We’d be the same down here in the club. There’s a lot of pressure on with the underage success we’ve had, and with young lads like him, Luke [O’Farrell] and [Paul] Haughney, to win senior counties, but it’s almost 30 years since we won a senior county.

“We’d like to keep it low key with Conor down here, but after lastSaturday night that won’t be too easy.”

John Considine was Lehane’s coach at minor inter-county level and saw the youngster bounce back fromadversity early on.

“He played minor against Tipperary first. He was 17 and I remember in that game nothing went right for him — if he went for where the ball should hop to, it seemed to go the other way. The following year and it came together for him. He was very good. We would have played a lot of challenge games against other county minor sides, and every other manager would be over to ask who he was. Sometimes they were asking at half-time.

“We played him at wing-forward, or at full-forward if we wanted a goal. He’s strong enough and has a great leap, as people saw the other night in the league game against Waterford. He’s just an excellent player.”

Considine has a different take on the issue of hype.

“Does he have stuff to work on? Of course, every player does. And every player gets setbacks along the way, but a lot of that stuff is influenced by who’s in charge of the player.

“Jimmy [Barry-Murphy] is in place as manager for three years and he and the selectors will look after him well. They’ll improve him as a player: at the end of their three years I think you’ll certainly find he’s a better player than now.

“I understand why everyone wants to play down the hype about him, but if you have a good player he’ll stand out anyway. Why try to hide him?”

Certainly Lehane himself has been learning from the management.

“They’ve been driving it into us to take the whole thing game by game,” he said. “To be aware of the crowd because they’re going to be there at games and they can affect players, but they’re putting the focus on concentrating on the game.”

After next weekend’s Fitzgibbon Cup action Cork play Dublin in Croke Park, which should be Lehane’s first game at headquarters.

“I’ve never played there —hopefully I’ll be picked because it’s bound to be a fantastic occasion; a big crowd, double-header under lights, but the lads have been stressing that the whole time, it’s just a game, they’ve been onto us not to getcarried away with where it’s on or anything like that — to concentrate on the game and on the tactics and to give it your best shot.”

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