Last year Kieran Connery only had Thomas O’Gorman for company on those midweek dashes down the M9 from Dublin to training in Carriganore outside Waterford city.
This year the Déise senior football numbers in the capital have swelled with Cillian O’Keeffe, Stephen Enright, Tadhg Ó hUallacháin, Shane Ahearne and Andy Doyle all joining the commute. It’s a hectic schedule for Connery, an IT consultant with Accenture in Dun Laoghaire, and his teammates but the strength in numbers has made the treks more tolerable. The hope is that tomorrow’s Munster quarter-final will bring a reward.
“We head down once a week, either meeting up at the Poitin Stil pub or the park and ride at the Red Cow roundabout. It can be tough but my employers are good in letting you leave early and work up the hours the following day. And we’re not the only ones doing it, you’d notice the Poitin Stil seems to be a big pick-up point with lots of lads with other county and club gear bags meeting up there to head off training.”
The 26-year-old defender has been around the inter-county scene long enough to notice the shift in perceptions of Waterford football.
“I remember when I started just out of minor, we were going to league games expecting not to be on par with teams.
“The mindset has completely changed. We’re going out knowing we can compete. Getting to play in Croke Park for the 2010 Division 4 league final was really special for us and showed we’d developed. And then competing in Division 3 last year helped our confidence as well.”
Connery first kicked ball at senior level for Waterford in 2004, juggling his Leaving Cert exams with a provincial championship clash against Limerick. He opted out in 2008 [exam commitments] and in 2009 went travelling the world.
That trip began in Asia before moving onto Australia in March where he maintained a Gaelic football connection by playing for Brisbane club John Mitchels and winning the Queensland championship.
Connery rounded off the journey by landing in Los Angeles in October where he rented a camper van with two of his friends, Niall Horgan and Paul Lucey. They put the keys in the ignition in Santa Barbara on the tip of the west coast and pointed it in the direction of New York on the east coast.
“It was an amazing experience as it’s an iconic route going across America. Visiting New Orleans was my highlight, it’s a great city. When we arrived first in LA, the NFL season was just starting so we picked a team to follow and chose the New Orleans Saints. We saw them play in the Superdome and always made sure to see their games on TV on a Sunday or Monday night. After we came home to Ireland in December, they ended up winning the Superbowl the following January.”
He missed Gaelic football though, while abroad.
In 2009, his club Clashmore were relegated from the senior ranks but, returning to captain them in 2010 to a Waterford IFC title in a team that also contained his brother Padraig, helped ease the guilt at being away. The club is now at senior level again with Connery, O’Keeffe and Sean Fleming all Waterford county players.
While Connery’s roots lie firmly in Waterford, a large chunk of his formative football development occurred in Cork.
He went to school in Youghal, playing on a Cork Vocational Schools team that included players such as Cork’s 2007 All-Ireland U21-winning captain Andrew O’Sullivan. At third-level he enrolled in UCC where he studied commerce and three years of Sigerson Cup action between 2006 and 2008 were invaluable.
“It’s a brilliant competition. It opened my eyes into the mindset of how to prepare properly as we’d Niall Cahalane in charge of us and he was great. Playing corner-back was excellent as well as I was marking some top class forwards like Daniel Goulding, Cian Ward and Darran O’Sullivan.”
Absorbing those lessons stands him in good stead for tomorrow’s battle with Limerick.
It’s already been a good sporting week for his family. Last Monday night in Killarney, Thynetocatcher, a horse owned by his father John, won the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Maiden Hurdle. Connery missed out the horse’s most famous triumph in Navan last November when she won a bumper at odds of 25/1 but he still celebrated when getting a text from his mother Mary while on holiday in Cuba.
In a year when Waterford are away from giants like Cork and Kerry in the provincial football draw, Connery is hoping to keep the run of success going.
“It’s always good to avoid the big two in Munster but I’m sure Limerick and Clare are thinking the same thing. We’ve had a lot of encounters with Limerick over the last few years, they got the better of us in the qualifiers last July. But there’s a big chance this year and that’s what we’re aiming for.”
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