Murt Connor Interview

November 8, 2018

Murt: ‘Matt was special. Very Special!’

The Connor name of Walsh Island is synonymous with Offaly and GAA supporters in general but when fans think of Murt Connor, they think back to the rain soaked 1971 All-Ireland final when his rocket shot rattled the roof of the Galway net and caused a mini tsunami almost resulting in the umpires having to change their clothes.

Murt Connor believes within the next 2 to 3 years Walsh Island will be back competing for the Dowling Cup and that while the team in general has matured, Brian Connor was the driving force behind their quest for the Intermediate title this year.

He has backed Brian’s bid to become Offaly’s new number 9 stating ‘he deserves his chance for his performances at club level’.

In this exclusive interview the retired school teacher and 6 in a row county medalist talks about the All-Ireland success in the ’71 final, his goal that day and what it was like to play alongside one of the greatest players of all time, his own brother, Matt Connor

Who were your earliest influences in football?

‘Well I suppose I would have to say my family. Football has always been in my family. The primary school would also have been a big influence under the teaching of Randal McCarthy’.

Who were your footballing heroes when you were growing up?

‘Well I was about 10 or 11 when the ’61 team played so anyone at all from that era. I could name that team quicker than any team I played on! (laughs) All those guys were the heroes of my youth anyway’.

You played in the 1970 senior football final but not for Walsh Island. How did the club Eire Og come about?

‘Im not sure how it started exactly but I think there was no senior team in the parish. Bracknagh, Clonbullogue and Walsh Island got together and formed a team. Im not entirely sure but they may have only been junior when they formed but the idea was to make us all stronger’.

What can you remember about that game?

‘I remember it was dreadful weather! (laughs) There was only a goal between us which I think Tony Keegan scored but that was the difference in the end’.

How did the formation of Walsh Island come about?

‘There were very good school teams in Walsh Island then and a good group of young lads came up together and thought we could have a senior team of our own then. I think it was the early ’70’s we started and we got off to a good start. I think we beat the county champions three years in a row. We reached a final in ’76 against Ferbane and got beaten in a replay’.

What did you achieve at club level?

‘I played in 5 u21 finals and lost all of them. There was 2 replays, one against Tullamore and the other against Edenderry who we end up playing 3 times. I won an u21 medal in Dublin playing with the training college. Then there was the 6 in a row at senior level with Walsh Island from 1978-1983 and two Leinster club championships’.

Was it ever hard to motivate the players during the 6 in a row?

‘No I don’t think there was ever any problem motivating the players. Every time we won we wanted to win more. We were a very united side and every single player on that panel went to Walsh Island national school and never went to any other school for even one day. That is very unusual’.

How special was it to win the Leinster club championship?

‘It was very good for an area the size of Walsh Island especially when you see the size of some area’s that can’t win it. It was a major achievement because we had a limited panel and a very small pick. Walsh Island may have doubled in size now but back then there was only 80 houses’.

Walsh Island romped to the intermediate title this year. How do you expect them to fare at senior football next year?

‘If the team stay together they should be well able to compete but keeping them together will be a tough job because work is so scarce some lads might have to leave the country in order to get a job. But if they can stay together they will compete, they might not win a championship for a year or two but they will definitely compete’.

What was the difference between this year and previous years for Walsh Island?

‘It’s hard to know really but I suppose that little bit more maturity would have helped. Brian Connor has made a huge difference. He played very well this year and he will be a big player for Walsh Island. I think bit by bit we just got stronger’.

Brian Connor has been tipped to start midfield for Offaly next year? How do you rate his chances?

‘I think he certainly will be in the shake up anyway. He deserves his chance for his performances at club level’.

Throughout all of Walsh Island’s dominant spells even in the 1930’s the Connor name has been ever present. What’s the secret to their success?

‘We have big families! (laughs) We were there at the start of the formation of the club and in our case there was a lot of boys in our family so football was an outlet. When we were growing up we just always played football. I have one son and he played up until minor but he’s in England now’.

Who was your toughest opponent at club and county level?

‘Well at county level it was probably Donnie O’Sullivan of Kerry and at club level I suppose Eugene Mulligan of Rhode was probably as tough as you’ll play on’.

Who was the best player you ever played with?

‘There was a lot of very good players on the ’71 and ’72 Offaly teams. My brothers of course were all very good especially my brother Matt who was very special. I played with John O’Keefe of Kerry at u21 level in Dublin. It’s very hard to pick out just one’.

Who was the player you played against?

‘I suppose Donnie O’Sullivan is the one that stood out. He always seemed to have a good day against me anyway’! (laughs)

Who was the best manager you ever played under?

‘I don’t think managers in my time were as big as they are now. Fr Gilhooley was there in ’71. He was a great psychologist. Of course Paddy Kerrigan who trained us to the 6 in a row was a very good trainer as well’.

What were the best grounds you played in?

‘Croke Park’.

Padraig Dunne recently named you as one of his childhood heroes. How did you rate Padraig as a player?

‘I better say he’s good now anyway! (laughs) Padraig was very young on the ’82 team, I think he was actually the youngest but he was made of tough stuff. He was very hardy and a very good footballer’.

Did you play much underage with Offaly?

‘I played one minor game during my leaving cert and I played u21 for a few years. We won the u21 Leinster in 1971 but were beaten by Fermanagh by a point in the semi final’.

When did you make your senior debut for Offaly?

‘I came on the scene just after the ’69 All-Ireland and I made my senior debut in the league. I came on as a sub at corner back for John Egan. I played my first championship game against Longford at corner back as well. Then I got dropped but Sean Evans got suspended and I was put in full forward against Meath in that famous Leinster final’.

Like you said, you played in that classic game against Meath in 1970. What can you recall about that game?

‘It was an 80 minute game first off. Players hadn’t really adjusted to that I don’t think. I think we were 10 points up at half time. It was a huge score to get and not win a game. It finished 5-12 to 2-22’.

You were involved with Offaly’s first ever All-Ireland success in 1971. How special was that for you?

‘It was very special. When you see grown people cry it makes you realise just what it means to win an All-Ireland. They had followed Offaly for years and never seen them achieve much success. No matter how many more All-Irelands Offaly win there will only ever be one first. It is something that will always be remembered’.

You are probably best remembered for your goal against Galway in the final when you nearly drowned the umpires. What did that moment mean to you?

‘(laughs) I think it is the one thing that people still to this day come up to me and say ‘you shook the water off the net’. It is probably what I am most associated with anyway. We won the game by 3 points although Galway did get a goal after that but I think it is fair to say it is the one thing people remember most’.

You won yours and Offaly’s 2nd All-Ireland in ’72 and a 3rd Leinster in a row in ’73. Did you see the success drying up the way it did?

‘No definitely not. I think we could have won the All-Ireland in ’73 but Galway beat us by a point. I think we could have won it throughout but we just didn’t and I don’t know why but the team just fell apart’.

Offaly’s next All-Ireland title came in 1982, your brother Richie been captain. How proud were the Connor’s the evening Sam Maguire came back to Walsh Island?

‘Oh sure it was great to have Sam coming back again. The only problem is it hasn’t come since! (laughs) I hope to live to see it come again some time. It was great that it was my brother who was captain. It was very special’.

Your younger brother Matt is regarded as one of the greatest players ever to play for Offaly. For people who never got to see him playing just how good was he?

‘He was special. Very special. When you were playing alongside him and you were loosing by 5 or 6 points you would never panic or even worry. He would just get a goal and put us back into it. He could conjure a goal up out of nothing and did so on many an occasion’.

How big of a blow was his accident to Walsh Island and Offaly football?

‘It was a big blow for morale and for the county itself. It took a few years to recover from it really. He was only in his prime when it happened, he was only 24. It was terrible and it set everyone back’.

Is it a testament to how good he was that although he was forced to retire at 24, people still say he is one of the greatest players ever?

‘Yeah well he was. His scoring record was just phenomenal. One of the years that he set a record it even surpassed hurling records. I think he was the highest scoring player from ’78 to ’84’.

When you retired from playing did you get involved with coaching?

‘I was teaching in Daingean for 26 years and I was principal in Walsh Island for a few years and I was involved with the school teams. I coached the Cumann Na mBunscol teams’.

What do you make of the current standard of senior football in Offaly?

‘Rhode are a very good team and Clara proved this year that their a good team. Over the past few years nobody could compete with Rhode and they were winning finals far too easily by big scores. When Walsh Island were going well and winning championships they were only winning them by one or two points. Other teams were competing then. You had Ferbane, Rhode, Gracefield and Edenderry. At the moment there is only a couple of teams that could win it’.

How do you rate Offaly seniors at the moment?

‘They don’t seem to be going well at the minute. They seem to be lacking players with the exception of Niall McNamee. He is an exceptional player but he is the only one who is really outstanding’.

Sean Lowry said he believes McNamee is the only current player that would get on the ’82 panel. Would you agree?

‘It’s very hard to know, maybe there is a few I don’t know but Niall McNamee would definitely get into it. He would get on any Offaly team there ever was’.

For our Edenderry viewers, can you solve a debate? What was Willie Kelly like as a player?

‘Oh Willie was a good player. He was involved with 5 of the 6 in a row team. I think he was too young for the first one. There was woeful slagging here a few weeks ago actually with Richie over training the team. They were saying that only Walsh Island brought Willie Kelly back from Edenderry we wouldn’t have won the championship! Ah no but in all seriousness he was great to have around the team this year. He was hugely committed. His son was playing a semi final in a colleges match and Walsh Island had a match that day. He came to the Walsh Island game. That takes huge commitment and that kind of thing rubs off on players. He was very reliable and dead sound’!

The ‘Island without a peer’ has always contributed very well to Offaly football over the years with two of our three All-Ireland winning captains born and bread there. With Walsh Island now back amongst the senior ranks hopefully in the future Murt’s nephew Brian Connor can emulate his famous father Richie and bring Sam Maguire back to The Faithful County.