International Rules: Conor Glass determine to sculpt long career at Hawthorn
A YOGA session finished in the morning, Conor Glass arrives in the upmarket Axil coffee shop with friend and team-mate Conor Nash, who moved across from Meath champions Simonstown last year.
They live just around the corner with a host family, but are planning to go house-hunting themselves later the same evening as they look towards the next step in their lives.
Glass is bigger than you remember him. Not much, but enough.
“I’m heavier and leaner. I was 84kg when I came over and I’m 87 or 88kg now. I’ve lost skinfold and fat.
“I had a bit of a pigeon chest coming over. I think it was the first time I met Clarko [Alastair Clarkson, Hawthorn head coach], I was about 15 and he just grabbed my chest and said: ‘We need to grow this’. He’d seen that and I’ve been working on it the last couple of years.”
The pigeon chest has disappeared, as he proved when he used the new weight to knock Richmond’s Anthony Miles off the ball when he stood in front of an open goal in round 20 of the AFL season.
It would be a stretch to call Glass a regular yet, given that he still has played just six first team games for the club, but first impressions last.
Having played most of the season for Box Hill Hawks, a subsidiary team of Hawthorn who play in the Victorian Football League, his first team debut came in round 18, and he made 15 disposals (passes), eight intercepts, five marks and four inside 50s (the act of running or passing the ball inside the 50m arc, a statistic used to gauge effectiveness of midfielders) in a 100-48 victory over Freemantle.
He did it all in front of his family. His parents Cathal and Claire, and younger brother Cahir, had arrived in Australia on the Monday of that week.
“It was unbelievable. I found out in the car with my family and Conor, I was literally shaking. They actually rang Conor because they’d rung me and couldn’t get through.
“Conor was driving and they told him to tell me and the family. The car erupted. I wasn’t even nervous before the game. I was more nervous when I found out. I just played my role and thankfully played well.
“They were here for a few weeks. They’d flown out on the Monday and the game was on the Saturday. It was unbelievable having them there.”
He held his place against Sydney Swans and, after just two games, he was rewarded with a new two-year contract that will keep him with the club until at least 2019.
It’s not hard to discern that Glass sees his future in Australia. Not hard to see why either.
His post-season break back at home had to be interrupted by a dash back to Melbourne to collect his Best First Year Player award.
“I flew here on the Thursday night, the awards were on the Saturday and I flew home again on the Sunday, I was home for roughly three days.”
“Put it this way, if he lands at the changing rooms on Sunday I would say we’ll not chase him.”
– Enda Gormley, September 2017
IN all, he spent five weeks back in Ireland, but they didn’t coincide with his club Glen’s championship semi-final derby with Slaughtneil, contrary to the rumours.
It had been heavily suggested he would be in Celtic Park but with an expectant 5,000 crowd landing in Derry city, there was no sign of Glass when they came out of the changing rooms.
“It started when one of the boys asked Enda Gormley and he didn’t give an answer. That raised questions. I had a week off and we [Boxhill] were in the final.
“If you win that you get a week off. I told a journalist at home I had no game that weekend and I was off, it was the weekend of the Slaughtneil game, so I didn’t give an answer either.
“Mum and Dad were getting questions, I was just having a bit of fun and playing about with it. I was putting up Snapchats about the flight home too.
“There’s nothing in the contract saying whether you’re allowed to play or not.
“You’d put it to the club, ask them and tell them about it. If I’d been home I definitely would have considered it. It would have been hard not to, you’d get so much pressure from people at home.”
He did land home the following week and by the time he was back on the plane to return for pre-season five weeks later, it was about time.
“When I was back home for four or five weeks there, I felt like I overstayed my time. I was out of routine, friends were at university or working. Two or three weeks would have done me.”
“There was talk about our club when he would’ve been nine or 10. He was bigger than anybody else at that stage but he also had the talent and the ginger hair as well, so he was hard to miss.”
– Fergal P McCusker, July 2017
Rarely has there been a more recognisable figure on the playing field at Watty Graham Park. The shock of curly red hair distinguished a lad that didn’t need it.
He cut a languid figure since his U14 days and he played a central part in helping Glen win three Ulster minor titles, to which they added a fourth the year after he stepped out of the grade.
By then, he was beginning to settle in the suburb of Hawthorn, 20 minutes east of Melbourne city.
And while he says that shorter breaks at home might do from here on, the contingency is the small diaspora that are on the same path.
Ciaran Byrne, Ciaran Sheehan (both Carlton), Darragh Joyce, Ray Connellan (both St Kilda) and Mark O’Connor (Geelong) complete the septet that offers that bit of relief from homesickness.
“We all catch up once or twice every month. We could do anything – sit about the house and chat, go for lunch, coffee.
“Sometimes we’d go for a kickabout, one of the lads would bring out an O’Neills ball. We don’t really talk about sport or the AFL.”
The clique serves its purpose and keeps them all in touch with their roots. And it’s not that Glass wanted to leave his behind.
“My Dad always said if you didn’t go and try it, you’d regret it.”
It already seems a long time since he finished, either temporarily or permanently, his Gaelic football days, yet it will always remain a sore spot.
On top of the club medals and helping Derry to an Ulster minor title, he’d won a MacRory and Hogan Cup double with St Patrick’s, Maghera as a fourth year.
But it was a different role altogether he had as the captain and leader of the team that went back to the final against St Brendan’s, Killarney last April.
The Kerry side won by seven points in Croke Park but that’s merely a fraction of the tale. Two late goals from David Clifford glossed a game that Maghera led until a game-changing 45th minute incident.
“I was playing midfield and Shea Downey was marking David Clifford. They were scuffling and I came back to tell Shea to go away and I shouldered Clifford, just a normal contact.
“He dropped to the ground holding his stomach but got up straight away and carried on, he obviously didn’t expect anything from it.
“But the umpires called the ref and told him I’d got him with an uppercut to the stomach. That was me gone.
“We were maybe leading by four or five at that stage too, midway through the second half. It was just the worst timing. Any other game.
“It still sticks, big time. It sticks in mum even more. She hates it.”
It seemed all the worse because coming up through the ranks, Glass was almost always subject to special treatment from opposition players, but his even temperament was one of the most notable aspects of his game.
He won an appeal against the red card solely on a point of principle. Glass knew it would neither turn the clocks back nor affect the future, but he wanted his name cleared nonetheless.
His commitment to the teams he’d started out the season with meant he joined Hawthorn halfway through a campaign, which wasn’t ideal for a young man trying to make a vital impression in a new sport.
“I came in halfway through a season with no pre-season behind me, and I was playing like a Gaelic player. But when pre-season came, I found out what way you should be playing, the foundations you should have.”
The rising graph of his career shows that he is learning fast. It is good news for Conor Glass and Hawthorn, but not so much for Glen or Derry.
“Everybody asks and you always plan to go home at some stage and play. It’s too hard to tell. You can barely tell tomorrow never mind five or six years down the line.
“At the minute, I’d probably end up going back, but you never know.”