GAA Football

Former Aussie Rules star Dermot McNicholl backs Conor Glass and Conor McKenna to shine Down Under

Conor Glass has made a huge impression in the AFL since debuting for Hawthorn against Fremantle in July
Neil Loughran

ONE of the first Irishmen to play Aussie Rules has backed rising stars Conor Glass and Conor McKenna to make a huge mark Down Under.

Derry teenager Glass hasn’t looked back since being drafted into the Hawthorn senior team in July, while former Tyrone underage star McKenna has been superb in his breakout season with Essendon.

The 21-year-old has become a key member of the Bombers’ defence, although his future at the club remains unclear, with plenty of interest from elsewhere in the AFL.

Glass, meanwhile, shot to prominence after making his debut against Fremantle, the 19-year-old completing a team-high 93 per cent of his 15 disposals, making eight interceptions and collecting five marks.

One man who is not surprised by Glass’s success story is Dermot McNicholl, his former PE teacher at St Patrick’s College, Maghera.

Like Glass, McNicholl was an underage protégé with Derry and, after starring in the 1987 International Rules series, ended up joining Melbourne giants St Kilda in the following year’s draft.

He spent the 1989 season playing for VFA club Prahran before recovering from injury to feature for the Saints in the AFL, eventually returning home in 1990.

Times have changed, though, and McNicholl feels Glass and McKenna are well placed to enjoy stellar careers in the professional arena.

“They’re both doing brilliantly,” said the Glenullin man, part of the 1993 Derry All-Ireland winning side.

“Conor Glass has had some start. I’ve been watching his games and he’s around the 14-15 possessions a game mark. For a chap that’s only 19 years of age, only come into the sport, that’s unreal.

“Conor McKenna too – God almighty, that’s another major talent there. Both lads are doing really well and it’s great to see.”

Glass and McKenna were both targeted early on in their careers, and had been practicing the fundamentals of Aussies Rules long before boarding a plane.

And, looking back at his own playing days, McNicholl admits he left it too long before accepting the opportunity to showcase his skills Down Under.

He added: “I was too old when I went out.

“I had the chance to go when I was 17, then I was asked again when I was 19. The third time they came at me I was 23, but really I should’ve been out there when I was the same age as Conor [Glass].

“The skills of the game aren’t even the big thing. When I got out there, I was put into an intensive situation where I had a ball in my hand every single second of the day.

“Kicking the ball, those skills can be picked up pretty quickly but what you have to pick up is learning the different strategies, where you should position yourself, game management.

“My first game was against Geelong and I’ll never forget it. There was about 80,000 there. Big Kenny Sheldon was in charge of St Kilda at that time and, as I was about to go on, he said to me ‘you follow Paul Couch’.

“Paul Couch had won the Brownlow Medal the year before, he was the best player in the country, but Kenny told me to follow him and he would lead me to the ball. That’s what I did but I didn’t have the game knowledge so he was able to get away from me.

“That’s what Conor’s facing. He’s been playing at corner back, on the wing, inside, so he’s getting a lot of experience and it’ll stand by him.

“He’s doing very well for himself and fair play to him.”

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