Conor Cooney coming of age this season

Conor Cooney, not 25 years of age until October, is in his sixth season of playing senior hurling with Galway.

In 2012 he was full-forward on the team that won the county's first Leinster title, beating the Cats in the final. The St Thomas man came on in the All-Ireland final, and in the replay that season too, when Galway went down by 3-22 to 3-11 to Kilkenny on the last Sunday in September.

Since then the national school teacher in Peterswell has been a regular feature on the senior panel.

However, due to a few niggling injuries and being a bit out of favour on occasions, it is only this season the All-Ireland club winner with St Thomas has had the opportunity to establish himself as one of the most potent forwards on the team with a string of high quality displays over the past few months.

Man-of-the-match in Leinster final

Conor was man-of-the-match in the Leinster final win over Wexford, hitting 0-8 in total. He is currently the team's second top scorer in the championship with 1-14, behind Joe Canning.

Galway supporters are hoping Cooney who stands 6' 2" and weighs 15 stone plus, hits top form in three days' time, alongside livewire Conor Whelan in the full-forward line.

Cooney knows there is a lot of expectation among supporters for Galway to bridge the 29-year gap since their last All Ireland trophy in 1988 - four years before he was born.

"It is a long time. No doubt," he says. "However, every year it is a different team. An awful lot of the guys on the team and panel weren't even born when Galway won a senior All Ireland last. It is a huge gap for a hurling county with such pride, and there is definite expectation. There is a hope we can do it. However, no doubt there is huge hope in Waterford as well."

Cooney has been around long enough to know all the players inside the white lines can do is go out and play the 70 minutes to the best of their abilities and let the occasion look after itself.

"To be honest, there is pressure every time you put on a Galway jersey. There is an expectation there that you are going to win. Maybe that has been a bit of a hindrance throughout the years, the pressure that has been there since the guys in the 80s played so well.

"No matter what team is in an All Ireland final, there is going to be hype. Supporters are going to want to win it, but I guarantee - it is the exact same down in Waterford.

"We are just focusing on ourselves. I know it is a cliché, but we are just controlling the controllables. That is what we are doing. That is the honest truth. We are focussing on the game itself and letting other people worry about all the other stuff."

Win or lose life moves on

Win or lose on Sunday, Cooney will be back in his classroom teaching young pupils in Peterswell National School later in the week. Win or lose life has to move on.

And teaching is a profession and career he really enjoys. It is also one that allows him to commit to playing hurling at a high level both with his club and Galway.

"It is ideal really. You see more and more inter-county hurlers going into teaching and it seems to be the profession that suits, with the level of commitment that is involved in this day and age. It is almost at the level of professionalism. Cal [Colm Callanan] is running his own business, it is difficult, but he is top class at it.

"You see very few people with trades or jobs which require long hours of work because the level of commitment for inter-county is immense. It is basically like a second job. The days you aren't training, you have gym work, stretching, whatever it is for the recovery."

Now or never

Having lost All-Ireland finals in both 2012 and 2015 to Kilkenny - and with Tipperary and Cork out of the hunt - some Galway supporters believe 2017 is going to be Galway's year. "It is now or never" is a phrase that has crept into some discussions about Galway's chances of hoisting the Liam McCarthy Cup this Sunday.

Cooney is bemused by the phrase.

"I remember somebody asking me, 'is it now or never? Do you have to win the All Ireland this year?'

"I think if we say yes, we are putting huge, and needless pressure on ourselves. So look, it is just another match, we are looking forward to it.

"We are going to take it on its merits. We are in a good place. We have a good age profile. We have a lot of experience, but again it is a match against a top, top class Waterford team.

"They have proven just how good they are in the last few seasons. They have been one of the most consistent teams in the country as well. They have put in huge games against Kilkenny and massive teams.

"They are a top-class side, and we are just looking forward to the challenge. Whatever happens on the day happens."

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