Seán Hutton, Sports Editor
Around campus at Queen’s, many students wear their QUB zip ups and hoodies with pride. One man in particular who performs this exhibition like no other is Mr Connor McAnallen. The Armagh man enters his third year at Queen’s University as he strives towards attaining his degree in Accounting. However a prestigious degree is not all McAnallen hopes to achieve this year. He also enters his third year with the QUB Hurling squad, and has high hopes for the campaign that awaits his university.
Given the schedule for the months ahead, McAnallen and his team mates will be kept busy. Firstly, they feature in October as they participate in Division 2, National Higher Education League which lasts until January. After the League concludes the QUB men find themselves competing in the Ryan Cup, which to a reader lacking in hurling knowledge is, the 2nd tier of All Ireland. The Final of which is due to take place at the back end of February as both the semi-final and the final will unfold over a two day period. During this busy period, Queen’s Hurling Club will also host the Conor McGurk Cup in memory of former member, Conor McGurk. The cup will comprise of county teams, all of which will use the tournament as a vital component to their preseason.
Thus so far, Queen’s have played one game against Trinity College of Dublin. A game in which they found themselves on the wrong end of the result as they lost by a margin of 7 points. McAnallen illustrated precisely how key of a player he is when asked about the result against the Dubs. The 20 year old leader commented: “The team put in a decent performance. It was just silly mistakes that cost us.” However he was quick to point out: “Listen, January’s a long time away and there’s plenty of time to iron them out.” This infectious positivity did not stop here when talking to the Armagh County star, as he went on to speak of the campaign that awaits the team and last year’s misfortunes when QUB hit the bar as they missed out on All Ireland glory, losing in the final: “I’m optimistic about our chances. We got to the final of the Ryan Cup against Trinity last year and they pipped us then too”. McAnallen continued: “But ultimately the goal for this team is to get back there and go one step further this time.”
Filled with confidence and brimming with self-assurance, it is difficult to speak to Connor without wondering what type of influence he must have in the changing room. McAnallen gifted us with an insight into QUB’s squad for the year ahead, stating: “The way university teams are, there’s always rotation in the squad each year and we’ve lost some really good players like Christopher McGuinness and Alan Grant”, although taking time to praise his past team mates, ‘Smackers’ was rapid in returning to his current comrades: “but there’s men that are more than capable of stepping up to the mark like Nicholas McNaughton, John McLister, Fergus Donnelly and Ruairi Laverty”. As Connor portrayed belief in his team mates with an expression of seriousness, his face soon broke into a soft grin when asked about the management behind the crusade. Connor commented: “It is Sean McGourty leading us into battle this year”, revealing “The one thing I’ll say about him is he is the only manager I’ve ever had that takes a bag of sweets to training to hand out as rewards.”
However, it will take more than a bag of sweets to tame Connor’s hunger this year as he eyes bigger rewards. After already starring in two All-Ireland finals since joining Queen’s, the wing back is convinced that this is his year. Connor stated: “Personally it’s a massive year for me with Queen’s, Armagh and my club at home, Keady. Last year didn’t go to plan on all three fronts with injury and all three teams beaten in important finals.” As a young man pursuing a degree, training for three different teams and performing game in, game out; losing three finals could have proven detrimental to his mind-set. Fortunately, not for QUB’s Smackers. Instead Clubman Connor said: “that’s what makes it all even sweeter when you eventually get there. Trying to juggle all three teams and focusing on final year of my degree at the same time will be tough, but I’m more than fit for it.” To have missed out on All-Ireland glory twice, endured various sports injuries and above all, overcome the physical and mental scars of a road accident last year; it seems as if Connor McAnallen is a force to be reckoned with as he enters this campaign. After the interview had ended, the proud Queen’s man did not stop there as he continued “all being well, this time next year I’ll be graduated with a couple All-Ireland’s and a club championship in my back pocket.”
We at The Gown would like to wish Connor and the rest of the QUB Hurling squad all the best for the season ahead as they represent our university across the country.