The return of Wexford as genuine Liam McCarthy contenders is a welcome sight. Since their unforgettable 1996 win, they have watched on as their neighbours and Leinster rivals Kilkenny lifted the coveted trophy 11 times. The appointment of Davy Fitzgerald has reignited the fire within the ‘Yellow Bellies’. An injection of youth in the middle of the last decade has unearthed some of the finest hurlers in the country. One of those being Jack O’Connor. Having being introduced to the panel as 19 year old in 2014 he waited patiently to eventually make his championship debut in 2016, and would eventually go on to help Wexford bridge a 15 year gap when they claimed the Leinster title in 2019. His club still remains firmly at the forefront of his mind and close to his heart, however. So this week, we were delighted to go ClubSpotting with Jack O’Connor to St. Martins, in the sunny south-east.
1. What are your first memories of your club St. Martin’s?
I can remember the pitches being ploughed up back in 1999 (I was 5) as we were redeveloping the grounds. There was a small group of men (father included) who were having serious conversations and stepping out the side lines and end lines of where pitches would start and end. With regards to hurling, the club ran a competition for U8 and U10 called the Tony Boggan tournament. I was 6 and was mad to play but I wasn’t let. I snuck my helmet into the car and after mass on a Sunday mornings, I use to try join in. The only problem was I didn’t have my gear on so I stood out like a sore thumb playing full forward in a shirt and pair of shorts!
Glory Days: Jack Pictured with his St. Martin’s team mates.
2. Who were your sporting idols growing up?
We had a few from our club, Rory McCarty, Eoin Quigley and Gizzy Lyng. They were my idols during the 'noughties'. I played a lot of rugby too when I was younger and use to idolise Dan Carter.
3. What has been the proudest moment of your playing career?
There has been a good few moments and they are all different. I think my favourite has to be when we won the club county hurling final in 2017. It was the first for many of us on the team and the scenes after the final whistle were surreal. Celebrating with your teammates who are also your childhood friends. Your family and friends from the parish running on, filled with excitement and pure joy celebrating and hugging you. Those are very special moments and seldom to come by. Seeing that amount of joy in eyes of those from home would make any player proud and for me 2017 was my key highlight.
4. Toughest opponent you have faced?
I can’t say I have many stand outs, they are all tough to play on! My first year starting with the seniors in 2016, I had to mark Jamie Barron from Waterford in the All-Ireland quarter-final for a bit. At the time, he was really at the top of his game (still is!). I picked him up after 10 minutes but it was like trying to catch a fly. He was buzzing around the place, perfect timing coming onto breaks, wiggling in and out of tackles and kept the ball moving before I could get contact on him. Learned a lot from those 20 or 30 minutes I was on him.
Early Days: A Young Jack O’Connor (Left of Front Row)
5. Best Player you have played with?
It’s a hard question as some players are much better than others at certain things. Lee Chin is a great man to win a high ball, Conor McDonald is exceptional at winning scraps and rucks, Paul Morris and my brother Rory are the sharpshooters while Liam Og and Deeo are pure work horses. However, the most consistent and best player I’ve played with throughout the age groups would be Liam Ryan, our full back. I think the best ever free taker is my club man Joe Coleman. Lee Chin would have a different opinion, but I’d back ‘Big Joe’ all day on the frees!
6. Any pre game rituals or superstitions?
I like to go for a walk over to an old pump-house beside home before matches and tap the ball against the wall for 10 minutes. Nothing else other than that.
7. What are your hopes and ambitions for 2021?
Like all players playing hurling or football, win the big one!
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