Conor Glass first came to prominence as a prodigiously talented schools footballer at St Patrick’s Maghera. Niall Gartland takes a look back…
YOU could almost write a book on Conor Glass’s formative years.
Three MacRory Cup titles and one Hogan Cup. Two other appearances in Hogan Cup showdowns, including a hugely controversial red card for an innocuous challenge on David Clifford (whatever happened to him?). Captain of the Derry minor team that won their first Ulster Championship in 13 years. Catching the eye of the Aussie Rules scouts and signing for Hawthorn less than a month after he turned 18. It wasn’t the usual schoolboy experience, and this is without mentioning his exploits with Glen at the Ulster Minor Tournament.
The school he attended, of course, was St Patrick’s, Maghera, following in the footsteps of a who’s who list of Derry legends like Anthony Tohill, Henry Downey, Johnny McGurk and Sean Marty Lockhart, who actually managed him to his first of three MacRory titles when he was only fourth year.
Paul Hughes, another of his MacRory coaches, recalls a once-in-a-generation talent coming through the halls of St Patrick’s, a school second only to St Colman’s, Newry on the Roll of Honour list.
“Sean Marty Lockhart and Martin McConnell were the two lads who really gave Conor his big break. They brought him into the MacRory panel around Christmas time when he was only fourth year, with a view to giving him a bit of experience.
“The more they saw of them, the more they thought ‘this boy’s a bit out of the ordinary.’ He was matching the older lads in the bleep test and things like that.”
By chance almost, Glass ended up playing a major role as Maghera won the MacRory Cup title in 2013. They didn’t stop there, adding the Hogan Cup into the bargain.
“Glen’s current captain Connor Carville, was sick the morning of the quarter-final against St Colman’s. Conor [Glass] was drafted into the half-back line and given a man-marking job. They told him to do the best he can, but he ended up having a brilliant game and remained on the team for the rest of the campaign.
“He scored two goals from half-back in the Hogan Cup semi-final against St Jarlath’s as a fourth year which was an incredible feat. We hadn’t had a player like that since Dermot McNicholl was in his pomp. He went on and got his Hogan Cup medal with a fabulous performance against St Patrick’s, Navan at Croke Park.”
Glass won his second MacRory medal in March of 2014 and later that year captained the school to victory in the Rannafast Cup. They reached another Hogan Cup final, where they lost to Kerry school Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne, but he was already very much on the radar of Australian Rules scouts.
“They were very much in touch with Conor at the time, inviting his family over to Australia and sending him gear and match balls. He’d won his second MacRory when he was only a fifth year so he was always going to stand out.”
He won his third and final MacRory Cup title in 2016 as captain of the team. The year ended on a sour note as he was dismissed in the Hogan Cup final against St Brendan’s College, Killarney.
“Conor won his third MacRory in 2016 and by that stage he was even more physically developed and had gained experience of training with Hawthorn’s senior squad on Christmas breaks.
“Beyond his athletic ability, it was his understanding of the game that made him special. He had that innate ability to read the game and he’s tremendously unselfish. It was never about Conor Glass, it was about playing with his friends and doing well for them.
“He was an absolutely fantastic captain for us in 2016 and it’s such a shame how it ended up. It could’ve been the turning point of the game, we were leading at the time and Conor was dictating matters. How Mr Clifford managed to engineer a red card, I’ll never know, and no-one can point me to any evidence suggesting it was justified, but that’s another story.”
Hughes, a Tyrone native, will travel to Croke Park this Sunday to cheer on Glen. The vast majority of their players are alumni of St Patrick’s, Maghera, and Hughes is amazed by the strength of GAA in the area.
“The remarkable thing is practically every one of the current Sleacht Néill team came through St Patrick’s as well. When have you ever seen anything like that before – two neighbouring teams dominating their county and province one after the other. I think it’s a fantastic advert for what both teams have done and we’ve been lucky as a school that we’ve enjoyed the benefits of what those clubs have done with their underage structures, because they’ve given us some fantastic memories in both football and hurling.”