May 10, 1991
The big Wexford man deserves better reward
The stylish George O'Connor marked his return to the Wexford senior hurling team with a majestic midfield display in the recent Royal Liver National League semi-final battle with arch-rivals, Kilkenny at Croke Park.
The St. Martins clubman silenced those who criticised him for taking a winter break with one of his best-ever performances in the purple and gold jersey. Known affectionately as 'Georgie' in the south-east, O'Connor masterminded Wexford's rousing second half revival with an outstanding exhibition of high fielding around the centre of the field.
Practically every constructive moment by the Slaneysiders was initiated by the 31 year old farmer, and he also popped up to rattle home their second goal of the game late in the third quarter. Having seen his first piledriver superbly saved by Kilkenny custodian Michael Walsh, O'Connor rose into the clouds to grab Dermot Prendergast's cross before driving the sliotar to the net.
It was vintage stuff from the experienced campaigner who first donned the Wexford jersey at senior level in 1980.
In the meantime he has firmly established himself as one of the best midfielders in modern day hurling, although he has also enjoyed spells in the half forward and half back lines for the Model County.
Second eldest in a sports-mad family of four boys, Georgie has hurling talent in his blood. His late father, Paddy O'Connor, was a star midfielder on the Wexford junior hurling team that captured the Leinster title in 1940 - prior to this victory the county had languished in the hurling doldrums for over twenty years, and many old timers contend that the junior success was the springboard for Wexford's marvellous feats at senior level in the glorious fifties.
Georgie's tremendous natural ability was nurtured at underage level with his beloved St. Martins, a progressive club founded in 1932 who draw their talent from the Piercetown, Murrinstown and Drinagh areas on the outskirts of Wexford town. They teamed up with near neighbours Glynn-Barntown to win the county minor hurling championship in 1974, with Georgie sharing in the success as a raw fourteen year old substitute.
By the time the three-in-a-row at minor level was completed in 1976, O'Connor had become the star player on the gifted team, forming an unbeatable midfield partnership with John Barron, who went on to represent Wexford in senior ranks.
And when St. Martins defeated Wexford District rivals Crossabeg-Ballymurn to win the 1977 intermediate hurling championship, seventeen year old O'Connor was a key figure at midfield. Earlier that summer he had guided the county minor hurling side to the Leinster Final from a centre forward role, but Kilkenny denied him the opportunity of capturing a provincial medal.
The following year Georgie was one of the few Wexford players to impress when they made their exit tamely to Laois in a replayed Leinster minor hurling semi-final. However, he had better luck on the football field in his final year as an under 18 when he was one of the driving forces on the county team that reached the provincial decider, only to lose to a Barney Rock-inspired Dublin.
Even at this stage O'Connor was a household name wherever gaelic games were discussed in Wexford. He finally won that elusive Leinster crown and added to his growing reputation in the process when the Slaneysiders surprised many pundits by overcoming a strong Kilkenny side in the 1979 Under 21 final. Heartbreaking defeat was to follow in the All-Ireland semi-final in Nowlan Park where Galway triumphed by one point, but Georgie had done enough to earn a call-up to the county senior panel, for the 1979-80 National League campaign.
O'Connor made the adjustment to the higher level with comparative ease, winning an Oireachtas title in his first full year in the top grade. His uncanny catching ability and superb athleticism singled him out as a player of great promise, a promise that was fulfilled superbly in the 1981 Leinster senior campaign. Showing a maturity and coolness that belied his tender twenty one years, Georgie reached new heights when helping Wexford to master Kilkenny by 4-12 to 1-18 in a rousing provincial semi final.
And despite the subsequent bitter disappointment of losing to Offaly in the decider, the big man from Piercetown was rewarded for his heroics by being selected on the 1981 All-Ireland Stars fifteen. Since then O'Connor has been Mr Consistency on the playing fields, soldiering on with praise-worthy zest despite Wexford's frustrating lack of major success.
A second Oireachtas medal and a Walsh Cup crown, both won under the tutelage of Br. Michael O'Grady in 1987, are all he has to show for ten years of representing his county in the top flight.
However, his consistency was recognised nationally four years ago when he gained a second All Star award, a just reward for the loyalty he has shown his beloved native county throughout his career.
A measure of Georgie's all-round sporting ability is the fact that the small minority who keep football alive in Wexford rate him as one of the best midfielders EVER to have come out of the south east. Indeed, were it not for his great commitment to the hurlers over the years, O'Connor would undoubtedly be a regular on the county senior football team. His finest hour in a Wexford football jersey came on a cold, uninviting day in Wexford Park in 1983 when his superb fielding helped the home county to overcome Clare and gain promotion to the Second Division of the National League.
O'Connor has been continually frustrated in his quest for a county senior hurling medal since St. Martins rose to the top grade in 1977. Their only final appearance came in 1983 when they gave championship specialists Buffers Alley a huge fright - St. Martins took the game to the title holders and in the end the Alley only scraped home by two points, 1-13 to 1-11, after substitute Marney Burke handpassed a goal.
The sides clashed again in the Centenary Year semi final with the result being much more clearcut - the Alley romped to victory by a whooping 8-10 to 0-12, and it took St. Martins three years to recover from such a shattering bodyblow. They again contested the penultimate round in 1988, losing out to Rathnure on this occasion in an ill-tempered game.
St. Martins' bad luck continued in 89 when they came within a whisker of beating Buffers Alley in the last four, but last year they collapsed in their semi-final meeting with Cloughbawn and bowed out tamely by 2-8 to a measly 0-5. The St. Martins' story is a story of frustration - the team are good enough to make the last four regularly, but they just haven't got the talent to go any further. Of course, Georgie O'Connor is one of the leading lights on the side, and he also acted as a team selector last year.
On the football fields he masterminded St. Martins' intermediate championship win in 1982, and the best season they have had since came six years ago when they lost to Half Way House - Bunclody in the senior semi final. George is ably assisted on the club team by his three talented brothers.
The eldest, James, is a 33 year old farmer who plays at corner forward with the senior hurlers. Bridewell-based Garda Art, aged 28, has represented the county at senior and junior football, and he lined out with the Wexford senior hurlers on a couple of occasions also. Interestingly he is regarded by many hurling followers in Wexford as a better club hurler than Georgie, playing consistently well in the middle of the field with St. Martins.
The baby of the family is John, a 27 year old factory supervisor based in Dublin. He first claimed a regular place on the Wexford senior hurling team in 1987 at right half back, and has a nationwide reputation for his accuracy from long range frees. At the moment he is recovering from an eye operation after being felled by a blow in the National League game with Dublin in Parnell Park in November.
Wexford supporters have had little to cheer about in recent years, but when they look back on 1991 in the future, the display of Georgie O'Connor in the drawn League semi final will be fondly remembered. A loyal and dedicated servant of Wexford hurling, he deserves better reward for the tremendous service he has given over the years. Let's hope that an All-Ireland senior medal comes his way before he departs from the inter county scene
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
10 May 1991
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