Wednesday, February 1, 2023
SportNorthern Ireland and Celtic goalkeeper Conor Hazard reflects on a hugely successful...

Northern Ireland and Celtic goalkeeper Conor Hazard reflects on a hugely successful loan spell in Finland

CELTIC goalkeeper Conor Hazard
believes the experience of
playing with Finnish club HJK
Helsinki will stand him in good
stead for his future career.
The local man decided that a loan
deal playing first team football in the
Veikkausliiga League would put him
in a better place to win a starting
place on the Celtic first team. He
started every match while there, 19
games in all, and kept nine clean
sheets as HJK won the league title.
At the end of the campaign, he
told the Mourne Observer how the
experience developed him as a
player.
“I have loved every minute of it. It
has been a great year for me. Playing
in the Europa League, becoming
champions. There was a lot of
expectation on me. There was a lot
of pressure.
“Everyone can see how I
performed. I am more confident on
the pitch and I am more confident
off the pitch. That comes from when
you are playing week in and week
out.”
There were a string of highlights
for Conor. He played for HJK in the
Europa League. He helped them on
their league title run, and he even
won an award. He explained what
the high points of the time in Finland
were for him.
“There have been quite a few
achievements. I think getting player
of the year from the club was the
one (best achievement), particularly
as I am a goalkeeper.
“When you experience a Celtic
home game, when you experience
that feeling then you are ready for
those big games. But you want to do
it week in, week out.”
Playing in Europe was an
important experience for Conor. He
got to line out against Real Betis,
Roma and Ludogorets.
“One of the factors in me making
the decision (to play in Finland) was
the opportunity to play in Europe. It
was a really good experience.
“It feels like I proved myself, down
to the game time that I have played
and playing at a higher level and
coming up against some of the best
players. It is only natural that you are
going to get better.
“I am pleased with the way I have
performed over the past six or seven
months.”
Conor left for Helsinki at the start
of the year. After a period of
struggling to get his place on the
Celtic first team he agreed on a loan
deal to go to Helsinki where he
would get first-team football.
Conor explained that going to
Finland to play for Helsinki was a
culture shock initially.
“When I first heard about it, it was
a wee bit of a hard decision to make.
I knew that it was going to be a
completely different challenge.
“The way of life is more chilled out
than in the UK.”
And he explained that the climate
took a little time to get used to.
“When I came here at the start
there were only a few hours of light.
“Then when you get to the
summertime it doesn’t get dark at all.
“It took a while to get adjusted to
that.
“When you wake up in the middle
of the night and it looks like it is the
morning it was a surreal experience.
It is surreal how quick the seasons
change.”
But Conor said the support
structures in HJK Helsinki were a big
help.
“The club was very good. They
knew how hard it would be. There
were quite a few foreign players
there already. It was easy to get
adapted to it. The boys were very
good at helping. I have to say it was
very easy to get acclimatised.”
Conor met those off-field
challenges head on, but the on-field
ones were something that he
relished.
“To play a game every three days
was challenging. I was playing
Thursdays and Sundays. It was not
only physically a challenge but a
mental challenge.”
He also said that working under
new coaches was a learning
experience as well.
“The coaching is different. The
methods are different than they are
in the UK. They were more focused
on core strength and there were
different trials.”
Conor has returned to the UK now.
After taking a break of five weeks
from the end of his time with HJK
Helsinki then he awaits the next
chapter of his career, wherever that
will be.
He said: “Going from playing week
in and week out and playing in
Europe, it can only help me.
“I think it won’t do me any harm. I
feel like I have played well.
“I have done my best and I will
take my break. I don’t know what is
going to happen.
“I am very positive, but it is out of
my hands. I can only prepare myself.”

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