How do you describe Conor Glass? Derry midfielder is managing expectations with club and county

Derry preparing for bone-shaking Ulster Championship quarter-final clash with Donegal

Glass is permanent:
Conor Glass has had an incredible run of success with club and county since he returned from Aussie Rules (Ray Ryan / SPORTSFILE)

HOW do you describe Conor Glass?

Well, he’s a big fella. Start there and then: Footballer. Businessman. Curly ginger hair. Inspiration. Friendly. Glen. Student. Beard. Intelligent. Barista. Down-to-earth. Freckles. Derry. Innovator. Brave. All-Ireland winner. Confident. Determined. Interested. Interesting.

The list goes on.

It was shorter in 2021 when he came home to Maghera having, he says, “probably underachieved” with Hawthorn in Aussie Rules.

He could have stayed but was happy to go. However, with Covid dominating everything, his thoughts did occasionally drift back to Melbourne when his early days were spent playing X-Box in his old bedroom at his parents’ house.

When the lockdown lifted, Glass, like everyone else, was glad to get back out on the field and, my God, he has he made the most of his time since.

But there were few signs – and certainly no guarantees - of the success he’d have: Glen had never won a county championship before, Derry hadn’t won Ulster in over two decades and were in Division Three...

You’ll hardly need reminding of his medal haul since 2021 but it bears repeating: Three in-a-row with Glen in the Derry Championship, two in-a-row in the Ulster club and an All-Ireland title this year. Two Ulster Championships in-a-row with Derry and a National League this year.

“Derry was in a weird sort of position when I came home,” he says.

“We have always had the players but it took Rory Gallagher coming in and adding – I wouldn’t say that professional aspect to it especially with some of the managers we’ve had – but it took that knowledge of him being there with Donegal in an All-Ireland.

“He knew what it took to get the house in order, what levels of self-belief to put in the players to know we are the best. And that (winning Ulster) was from us playing in Division Three, so it shows you the mindset that us Derry players have.”

Derry’s Conor Glass collects the Allianz GAA Football League Division One trophy after beating Dublin in Sunday's final at Croke Park. Picture: Mark Marlow
Conor Glass collects the Allianz Football League Division One trophy after Derry beat Dublin at Croke Park. Picture: Mark Marlow

Success hasn’t changed him but that takes effort too. It would be so easy for him to be burnt out by now with constant club and county, his café in Maghera, his studies... He has to be careful not to give too much of himself away and lose that special energy he has. So he is careful to make time for himself to have space to think, rest, have a social life…

“I’ve always had that,” he says.

“I was chatting to my parents, or to Neamh (his fiancé) a couple of weeks ago and I was like that when I was 17-years-old. I had too much on my plate but I was able to perform even with so much on.

“The more I have on, the better I perform. It’s just been ingrained in me from such a young age to have so much going on.

“But it takes its toll. Socially… being able to go into the café and chat to people about football after say, a defeat. After the Kilmacud All-Ireland defeat, to go into the café and people wanting to talk about football… It’s the last thing you want to do!

“And then, to have the motivation to go study the next day or a couple of days later. And then to have your social life away from football. It is hard at times.

“But it’s having the right focus. Saying to yourself that you are going to put a certain amount of energy into your University work, the café or whatever it is. I have worked with a few psychologists (during his time with Hawthorn). It feels like I am always giving energy to people and once you give energy to people, your tank is just going closer to empty.

“You have to find ways to make time for yourself. Have a 20-minute walk to just fill up the tank. There’s ways to do it and I am still learning.

Conor Glass wheels away in celebration after his vital late goal in Glen's All-Ireland final win over St Brigid's. Picture: Mark Marlow
Conor Glass wheels away in celebration after his vital late goal in Glen's All-Ireland final win over St Brigid's. Picture: Mark Marlow

“When you give energy, you are investing emotionally into the café - financially, anyway. Same as University, you want to be getting your degree, you want to be doing well.

“In football, you want to be performing at the best you can be. So you are always investing, but you have to get time to put stuff back in the tank.”

He has kept enough fuel in the tank to power his remarkable, non-stop run with club and county over the last two years and the next success is always the sweetest. A couple of years ago he leapt and punched the air with delight when Derry beat Donegal in the Ulster final at Clones. The feeling of that win was eclipsed in January when Glen beat St Brigid’s and captured the All-Ireland Club title.

“Your career and your goals are always changing,” he says.

“That’s the beauty of sport.”

There’s only one possible way to trump Glen’s All-Ireland and no prizes for guessing what that is - Derry to win the Sam Maguire. They were close last year when they had Kerry on the rack at the semi-final stage but the Kingdom finished stronger and won the day.

Since then Derry have a season in Division One under their belt and of course the League title they won so thrillingly against Dublin a fortnight ago.

“We have been playing against the best teams over the last two years,” says Glass.

“To play them week-in, week-out is fantastic for the younger players. Obviously you’re not going to play your best 15 every week in Division One so to be able to find a Diarmuid Baker has been unbelievable and he has kept his spot. Donnchadh Gilmore is a fantastic footballer. Lachlan Murray…

Derry's Lachlan Murray was well shackled by Cavan on Friday night  
Lachlan Murray has been a consistent scorer for Derry this season

“The benefit of playing Division One is to see if those players can stand up against the best teams. Because they are the ones who are going to have to come on against the Dublins, Kerrys, Mayos, Galways and Tyrones further on down the line. So it’s good exposure.”

That experience has been banked and could come in handy before this season is over and it begins in the Bogside on Saturday night when Derry host neighbours Donegal in an eagerly-awaited Ulster Championship quarter-final.

Donegal were the best team in Ulster when Glass returned from Australia but the talented outfit failed to maximise their potential. With Jim McGuinness back at the helm and their north-west neighbours now Ulster’s top dogs, the fire is back in Donegal bellies.

Celtic Park will be a true test of Derry’s credentials. There is talk of a three in-a-row in Ulster already and Glass agrees it would be an “awesome” achievement but he’s far too smart to look past Donegal.

“To think that we were in Division Four five years ago, to possibly going for three Ulster titles in-a-row… It’s obviously something that is fantastic for the county of Derry,” he says.

“As players, we are in a bubble and we don’t play too much attention to external noise but as athletes and competitors you obviously want to achieve.”