Rory O’Connor has revealed how he displayed his inter-county credentials to Wexford boss Davy Fitzgerald as an 18-year-old by wrestling Matthew O’Hanlon to the ground in training.
The incident occurred in 2017, just before O’Connor was thrown in for his Championship debut against neighbours Waterford in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
O’Connor had just completed his Leaving Cert and felt Fitzgerald put him on the powerful O’Hanlon — now Wexford’s joint-captain — just to test his mettle.
O’Connor, a Leinster medallist and All-Star nominee last year, told the story to indicate exactly what’s expected from the county’s rookie and fringe players as they gear up for another Allianz League campaign.
“You’ll obviously have your best 20 matchday panel but it’s about the lads that don’t tog out, what their attitudes are like, how hard are they going to go at it,” said O’Connor at the launch of eir Sport’s coverage of the Allianz Leagues.
“Is there a lad going to nut me in training because he wants my jersey? There’s no point having a young fella who is going to be really nice to you in training.
“I remember I did it at 18 years of age, wanting to get my place on the team, and bear-hugging Matthew O’Hanlon on the ground in a training match, that kind of stuff.
“What’s the point if you’re going in there just to sit around and be a panellist and watch training?
“I was clued in enough, I knew Davy was putting me on him for a reason, he wanted to see what I had. Was I just kind of a watery young lad?
“I was after getting two points off Matt in an in-house game and next thing my hurl fell and he threw it away so I just went at him.
“I remember Davy saying, ‘Don’t blow it up, don’t blow it up, let them at it!’ And the game went on. I remember I didn’t puck a ball for the last 15 minutes of that game because I was out of wind.”
O’Connor smiled at the suggestion he could hardly have picked a tougher opponent to wrestle.
“I know, and I knew if I let go of him I was dead,” he said. “But it’s those kinds of things (which are key). It’s about putting your hand up as opposed to just joining the squad and going through the process where you are just happy or content to be on the Wexford panel rather than trying to get onto the starting 15.”
Kevin O’Grady and Michael Furlong, both part of Paul Galvin’s Wexford football panel initially before joining Fitzgerald’s set-up over winter, are two players looking to plot the same development path as O’Connor who is now a regular.
The duo have already featured in the Walsh Cup with Furlong captaining the footballers in 2019.
“He’s brought in two experienced fellas that have been through inter-county set-ups and these lads aren’t going to let you off lightly in training so it’s definitely an asset to the squad,” said O’Connor.
Wexford won a breakthrough Leinster title last year and were five points up on Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-finals with an extra man only to eventually lose that game.
O’Connor admitted they took huge learnings from the tie which they hope to apply this season.
“You can hurl as well as you want for 65 minutes but the game is won in the last five minutes,” concluded O’Connor.