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prodigal son Conor Glass: ‘I modelled my game on Brian Fenton – whatever he does well, I try and implement it in my game’

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Watty Graham’s Glen and Derry footballer Conor Glass in attendance at the launch of this year’s AIB GAA Club Championships and AIB Camogie Club Championships. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Watty Graham’s Glen and Derry footballer Conor Glass in attendance at the launch of this year’s AIB GAA Club Championships and AIB Camogie Club Championships. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Watty Graham’s Glen and Derry footballer Conor Glass in attendance at the launch of this year’s AIB GAA Club Championships and AIB Camogie Club Championships. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

When Conor Glass flew home from Australia, in September 2020, it was a jolt to the system. Not just because he was leaving behind the life of a professional athlete but also because he was returning to a native game that seemed, well, a little bit foreign.

That’s what can happen when you go from Derry minor prodigy to spending four-and-a-half seasons chasing an oval ball Down Under.

To help with the immediate adjustment to senior county football, Derry boss Rory Gallagher suggested that he start watching tapes of Brian Fenton.

Learn from the best, as they say.

“The thing I struggled with was actually the game style. Gaelic changed a lot since I had left, I left at minor, and that’s a big step up to senior,” the 24-year-old says.

“So learning the game . . . I watched a lot of footage of the likes of Dublin, the best team in the country. Trying to find where I fit in in the Derry team, where I fit in the Glen team.”

It was almost like his introduction to Aussie Rules – in reverse.

“You are kind of thrown in at the deep end,” he says. “I kind of had to figure it out for myself.

“Even in the weeks and months after that I had to do extra work; I would have done that in Australia on vision. I actually enjoyed the process of learning my craft and learning the skills all over again.”

Asked if there was any Dublin player he modelled himself on, Glass name-checks their marquee midfielder.

“I hadn’t really watched that much footage of Brian Fenton over the years,” he explains.

“Rory Gallagher actually told me to watch out for him, and watch his vision and his game. That’s literally what I did. I modelled my game on him and whatever he does well, try and implement it in my game.

“He gets a lot of turnovers but he hits the scoreboard a lot as well. He has that fitness base of getting up and down the pitch. He is obviously a very versatile player.

“I have similar physical attributes to him; the more times I can get up and down the pitch, whether it is to create turnovers or get on the scoreboard, I will do. It has obviously worked for him in the past and he has been Footballer of the Year on multiple occasions.”

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Glass has only ever seen Fenton on video – “but hopefully in the next couple of years I will be playing against him at some stage”.

Within weeks of his homecoming last year, Glass was making his NFL debut (against Longford) and SFC baptism (against Armagh).

Since then he has helped Derry secure promotion to Division 2 – and endured the agony of seeing Donegal’s championship scalp slip through their fingers last July.

“Watching Tyrone winning the All-Ireland wasn’t easy,” he admits, adding that it will motivate the Derry players to “put in a lot more effort because we don’t see that there’s much between us and Donegal, or us and Tyrone.

“They obviously went the full way – it’s all about momentum at the end of the day. Tyrone just built every week and grew. We just need to get over that first hurdle, the first round of the Ulster Championship, and that’s what we’ve struggled with the past I don’t know how many years.”

From the numb anti-climax of Ballybofey in July to the ecstasy of Celtic Park in November, as Watty Graham’s Glen made history. Their emphatic eclipse of Slaughtneil brought Glen’s 73-year wait for a first Derry SFC title to an emotional end. Not bad for his first season back with the club.

“It’s a complete relief. I burst into tears after the game,” says Glass. “One of my goals coming home was to win a county title with Glen, and to do it in my first year was something pretty special.”

Already, though, the celebrations have been parked. Glass was speaking at the launch of this year’s AIB GAA and camogie club championships: on Sunday, Glen will make their first foray into the Ulster club SFC arena, facing St Eunan’s away in Letterkenny.

These days, unlike in Australia, he has to juggle football with the realities of life as an elite amateur, be it university (he is studying accountancy) or part-time work (as an accounts assistant).

“It was tough at the beginning. As a professional athlete, you get spoon-fed a lot of things,” he points out.

“What happened in the first year, even getting promotion with Derry, it makes the transition a bit easier. If I hadn’t got any success or I had got relegated to Division 4, I would’ve been questioning it . . . and I probably would’ve headed back, to be honest!”

Glass half-full. He’s going nowhere.

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