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Glass backed to be a smashing success after classy AFL bow

 

By Declan Bogue

It was basking in the aftermath of an away win in Perth, the thumping 100-48 scoreline in favour of his Hawthorn Hawks side over Fremantle Dockers, that the latest Gaelic footballer arrived in the world of Australian Rules football.

19-year-old Conor Glass of Glen, Maghera, had made an impressive rookie debut. His parents Cathal and Claire had been bringing a month-long stay in Melbourne to a close when they were advised midweek to extend the break another few days after their son was upgraded to the club's senior list for the trip out west.

Only seven minutes had elapsed when he was brought on for the experienced Luke Hodge, and Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson entrusted him with the role of being the general along the half-back line, organising his team-mates and telling them where to be positionally.

By half-time he'd gathered 10 touches, including four inside 50s entries. He finished with 15 possessions. The performance led to an on-pitch interview afterwards, with Glass talking about his journey to this point.

"There were a lot of sacrifices made to get here. But I am getting there, learning new things, new tricks," he said.

The interviewer then asked if there would be many Guinness drank to honour the occasion, and bizarrely asked how he was 'getting on with the ladies in Melbourne', to which an amused Glass conquered his bashfulness to reply: "Yeah, not too bad."

Afterwards, Hawthorn coach Clarkson was effusive in his praise for the Maghera man, who has become the 21st man from these shores to play in the Australian Football League.

"He has made a significant sacrifice in terms of wanting to play the Australian game and part of the sacrifice is just to have the courage to move offshore and play a foreign game," said Clarkson.

"He acquitted himself well. A lot of the Irish boys have a strong resolve about them and he is no different. They make a decision that they want to play the game and they work so hard. He has been one of the hardest workers at our club.

"One of our recruiters, Mark McKenzie, was heavily involved in the recruiting of Conor. He has done a lot of work with him. They need a lot of work when they first learn the game, but some of the help is first class."

All of this progress has come as no surprise to Paul Hughes, who was Glass' Gaelic football coach for the last three years of his education in St Patrick's, Maghera, where Glass won three MacRory Cups and a Hogan Cup.

"Conor was so different from the other lads," said Hughes, who managed the college side along with Colm Lavery. "He played midfield as a fifth year in a MacRory final and gave a fine display of catching against Omagh, it was incredible."

Hughes caught the Hawthorn game at the weekend and was not surprised whatsoever at the maturity in Glass' body. He has gone from being a wiry teenager and is progressing to the type of physique required for an incredibly demanding sport.

"He carries it all with such humility," said Hughes. "Conor was as modest and humble a cub as you could have come across. And this was a boy that was playing MacRory Cup from fourth year, he played in three Hogan Cup finals, he was winning with his club at minor and Under-21 level, this was a boy that had every right to be big-headed.

"He has ability, he has the attitude and he listens, he actually listens. If he was asked to do something different, he would do that something different."

After the game, Hawthorn's players put Glass through a traditional rite of passage as they put him in the middle of a circle and sang the Hawthorn 'Fight Song' in the dressing room.

With Clarkson's obvious approval and fast-tracking, there is no doubt in Hughes' mind that Glass can go on to enjoy the sort of career in AFL experienced by fellow converted Gaelic footballers Tadhg Kennelly and Jim Stynes.

"At one stage there was a big ball played up the middle and the commentator said, 'That was brilliant from Glass! He left his own man and attacked the footy!'" recalled Hughes.

"And I'm thinking, 'Hey, just wait until you let the leash off this cub and give him the opportunity to go and play, rather than restricting him'.

"He is a fantastic athlete with a fantastic mentality and I don't see any reason why he wouldn't have a very long and successful career for himself."

Drafted by Collingwood in 2006 as a rookie, Clarke had burned through the MacRory Cup scene with St Louis, Kilkeel.

He initially performed strongly as a half-back, but returned home to play with Down and reached the All-Ireland final in 2010.

Still only 29, he was forced to retire from all football in March due to Addison's Disease.

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