Conor Glass has become Rory Gallagher's midfield Invincible for Derry
Arsene Wenger used to refer to his Arsenal midfield invincible, Gilberto as his great side’s conscience.
Leading Brazilian magazine ‘Veja’ once wrote of Gilberto that he ‘carried the piano for Ronaldo and Rivaldo to play their tunes on’ in the national team. The World Cup winner never hogged the headlines, never sought the limelight but the Gunners have never managed to replace what he did for the team.
Every successful side has one; that player who makes everyone around him better and if Shane McGuigan and Niall Loughlin are currently Derry’s main pianists, then Conor Glass is the man doing the heavy lifting.
In little more than six months, Glass has gone from returning Aussie Rules curiosity to the fulcrum of a fast emerging Oak Leaf force intent on challenging for top honours.
Like his Brazilian soccer counterpart, Glass isn’t interest in individual accolades. Much of his work will go unnoticed to almost everyone bar his team-mates but his awareness, tactical acumen and selfless work is the basis upon which Rory Gallagher’s new Derry is being built.
Croke Park’s eagle eyed view provides the perfect vantage point the take in a player like Glass who possesses the happy knack all good players have of making the pitch appear huge when in possession but tiny if you’re facing him with the ball in hand. Time and again against Offaly on Saturday he was like Derry’s invisible wall, protecting his defenders, winning turnovers and providing a crucial link between back and front. He’s been doing it all season and Rory Gallagher must feel like he’s won the lotto in terms of the timing of Glass’ return.
“Everything about Conor has been pleasing,” explained the Derry boss, “I’d heard so much about him but I never actually saw him playing at underage, I was generally always involved in senior football at the time and paid very little attention. But I had heard a lot about him and knew enough about the character of him to throw him in last year, myself and the management, when he was very rusty. He had one training session under him when he came on against Longford (in 2020).
“I think since that he’s improved and improved. He’s very humble, he puts the team first. There’s a lot of skills in Gaelic football but your ability to play for the team, and his willingness to do that, is exceptional.”
And if Glass’ calm professionalism is the yin, then Gareth McKinless and Ethan Doherty’s pace, acceleration and directness is the yang. McKinless in particular dovetails perfectly with Glass, driving forward to unsettle massed defences and draw defenders who often have little option but to stop him illegally as Offaly discovered to their cost in Saturday’s one sided final.
The Ballinderry man has added an extra dimension to the county side and it's not only going forward that he contributes. It was only 0-10 to 1-04 at the start of the second half in Croke Park when Offaly’s Shane Horan found himself in for what looked a certain goal only to be stopped in his tracks by a sublime piece of last ditch McKinless defending and that’s not the first time this season that has hapened.
Saturday’s game won’t have told Rory Gallgher anything he didn’t already know about his players. It may, however, have told others that this Derry side can no longer be taken for granted.