Derry’s ‘cool cat’ brings pro Australian rules skills to All Ireland semi-final

Updated 1 hour ago

THE FIRST TIME Conor Nash saw the Derry midfielder play was in the 2013 All-Ireland College Final between St Pat’s of Maghera and St Pat’s of Navan.

Conor Glass in training with his former teammate Conor Nash with the AFL Hawthorn team.

Source: AAP/PA Images

Nash watched the talented defender with the ‘mop of red hair’ moving to help Derry school to victory over their Meath opponents. He wasn’t the only one to notice Glass. Another group of avid viewers watching the game that day came from Melbourne. They looked at Glass, wondering whether or not he would be a good addition for the AFL Hawthorn team.

The club’s scouts were suitably impressed, and two years later signed their lad as Glass for Hawthorn as a Grade B recruit. He made the trip as Ulster minor champions after having also played in a minor All-Ireland semi-final. Interestingly, Nash ended up joining Hawthorn as a rookie in 2016. Three years after watching Glass’ game in awe, Nash was now eager to learn the ropes from his new Derry teammate.

“He had come here a few months before me and was a great help to me,” Nash recalls. The42.

“His physical attributes are brilliant. He’s a big man around 6ft 4. He’s quick and can jump but I think it’s more his common sense. He plays like a sort of midfielder and his intelligence football is extremely high, and I thought so from the start, and that’s why I followed him.

“He reads the game so well and his skills on both sides are truly second to none.”

The couple stayed with a host family during their formative days at Hawthorn. A friendship quickly blossomed and they eventually moved in with a son from this foster home, where Westmeath footballer Ray Connellan was their housemate. Connellan spent time with St Kilda and Essendon during his time Down Under and has since returned home after ending his AFL career.

There were pool games every night before bed, and the boys discovered common interests which they explored while working hard for Hawthorn. And once Nash scratched below the surface level of Glass’ character, he found even more fascinating sides of his new friend to appreciate.

“We had a great time together,” Nash says.

“Glassy is pretty cool when he’s not training. He’s quite a cruiser and doesn’t really like stories. He likes his comfort and loved his playstation at the time. But he wasn’t lazy at home either; he wanted to improve in the kitchen and tried new dishes. We were a good game and the house worked out pretty well.

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Conor Glass on the ball for St Pat’s Maghera in the 2013 Colleges Final.

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“He always had an interest in business and cafes. The cafe culture in Australia is huge and he is looking to open his own cafe. I know Conor McKenna [RYCO Coffee House] has one in Avg. People are really buying into this culture now because it’s pretty cool and hip to be interested in coffee and going out and socializing. We have always been interested in it and have tasted different coffees in Melbourne.

“He is also very involved in design and architecture. I know he’s doing a degree in accounting, but he’s also interested in design. He’s a cool cat and he has a few quirks about him.

After 21 AFL appearances for Hawthorn, Glass decided to opt out of Australian rules and return home to Ireland. He had often remarked that pursuing a Gaelic football career with Derry seniors was always on his mind and that he would pursue that ambition at some point. He made his move in September 2020 and was back in a Derry shirt within a month for the Covid-delayed season to make his senior debut.

The return to the oval ball paid significant dividends for both Glass and Derry. They ended a 24-year wait for Ulster success earlier this summer after an extra-time final against Donegal, and have only Galway to beat to progress to the All-Ireland final.

“I guess in 2020 the club came to talk to him about his contract,” Nash says of Glass’ thought process behind the decision to leave the AFL.

“I guess he didn’t like it that much. I think he would have liked to drill a little more and it just wasn’t going that way. He always believed he could be a big star at home with the Gaelic football that he is, and we knew that was coming.

“When he came to see me, he had been chatting with his family and friends, and he missed home a bit. Then he came to see me to discuss it one evening. We discussed what he thought of the whole situation. I told him that I knew he was going to be a star and that I was playing devil’s advocate to get home and I just asked him, “How about you stay and fight?”

“So he stayed for the rest of this year. And then myself and Glassy had a very adult conversation with Hawthorn. They told him that they probably weren’t going to offer him anything if he was planning on going home, so both parties felt for each other. But I believe that if he had decided to stay and give it another year, he would have found an opportunity there. He was leaning to go home.

This weekend, Nash will once again watch Glass play at Croke Park. Circumstances have changed slightly since that 2013 occasion, however: Glass is now playing in the senior leagues, and Nash won’t be in the stands to see him. He has an AFL game against Adelaide to face on Sunday afternoon, but will watch the All-Ireland semi-final between Derry and Galway in the morning to pass the hours ahead.

Still friends despite the great distance between them, Nash will also send him a good luck message before the 5:30 p.m. throw-in.

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In 2021, shortly after resuming his playing career with Derry, Glass said in an interview with Le42 that his county should press for provincial and all-Ireland glory. He wasted little time pursuing this goal. The narrative around GAA players venturing into the AFL tends to focus on players who have not returned with the playing ability they left with. But in Glass’ case, he’s a better athlete for his time in professional sport.

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Credit: James Crombie/INPHO

“He knew they [Derry] were going to go far. He’s not afraid to say these things, but he won’t say them until he knows they can be done.

“He’s supported himself in terms of all the knowledge he can bring back from Australia. I don’t think the counties care enough about him, even if it’s someone who’s been here for two I think Derry was open to that.

“Glassy was here four and a half years and he saw a different perspective on training, skills and tactical things. The GAA dinosaurs will say it’s a completely different game, but it’s still professional sport. You have to tap into the stuff. There’s a massive focus here on a club’s culture and leadership groups, and how they work within a team to develop players as leaders from an early age.

“Having a brand that players hold themselves accountable to. There’s just a lot of stuff I know Glassy talked about before he got home. There’s no doubt he’s brought it all to the table in Derry and they’re seeing the fruits of it. Glassy is a wiser head to have that experience here trying to learn a new game and dealing with different types of teammates and systems.

“Some guys will say the AFL takes our players and they don’t come back, but I think Glassy is saying the opposite.”

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