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O’Donnell living the ‘ridiculous’ dream

DREAM ON: Clare's three-goal hero Shane O'Donnell soaks up the atmosphere after the presentation of the Liam MacCarthy Cup and all the media interviews. Picture: David Maher/Sportsfile

It began with a phone call 11 months ago. Louis Mulqueen got in touch with Shane O’Donnell’s father looking for his son’s number.

O’Donnell, a fresher in UCC at the time, was summoned up to UL for an evening challenge game with Limerick.

Davy Fitzgerald had liked the then 18-year-old’s thirst for goals during his two years playing minor.

Saturday was actually O’Donnell’s second start in Croke Park having scored two points in Clare’s All-Ireland final defeat to Galway two years ago.

And yet he wasn’t selected for last season’s U21s.

"He showed great form that evening on the astro-turf pitch," recalls Mulqueen. "He was obviously a promising minor from the previous season, a lovely, honest young lad.

"When you look at his hurling, he had a bit of a cut in him. There was something in Shane."

Over two Waterford Crystal games, he scored 1-3, the goal coming in the final against Tipperary. With Conor McGrath and Darach Honan out injured, O’Donnell started more games in the league than either he or the management team would have expected. His tally across the six games was another 1-3, the goal coming in the league proper game against Cork. Another game in which Clare ended up winning by six points, he had a starring role and ended up being replaced by Honan.

Not a great haul but Mulqueen knew he was only getting started.

"We used him a lot in the league, he showed touches. You knew there was something in him."

He started the Munster quarter-final against Waterford, netting after a Tony Kelly 20-metre shot was saved only to be taken off seconds later in the 55th minute.

He was a 60th minute substitute in the defeat to Cork but found the net again in the landslide qualifier win after coming off the bench earlier in the second-half.

With Honan’s injured quad troubling him, the Éire Óg club man started against Wexford and goaled again.

However, a leg setback struck him down and it wasn’t until last Saturday that he was handing a starting berth again.

"He got injured there the last couple of weeks, faded out of the starting team and was disappointed in himself that he wasn’t being started," says Mulqueen.

"The last day, when we were looking to shuffle the pack a bit, Shane was big in our thinking. Watching his performance in the U21 final, he scored a goal against Antrim and took it well.

"We needed to take on their defence and run at them and take shots at Anthony Nash, who is a brilliant goalie. Looking at that, Shane seemed to be the ideal man — a low centre of gravity."

Thinking back to that phone-call and the journey he’s taken to score 3-3 on Saturday, Mulqueen now appreciates when a plan comes together.

"What you see in matches is what you get from Shane in training. He’s got an unbelievable burst of pace. He’s also got the eye for goal and that’s something Clare haven’t had for a while, that poacher who can get goals when you need them. Going into the replay when there was nothing between the two teams, you needed a rabbit in the hat."

O’Donnell joked he will return to UCC over the next few days to rub it into the faces of his Cork college mates.

The Éire Óg Ennis teenager, who is in his second year studying genetics, said he didn’t intend on skipping too many days of lectures in the coming week: "I might miss one but sure I don’t want to miss too much of rubbing it in their face when I go down to them!"

Davy Fitzgerald revealed he only told O’Donnell he was starting two hours prior to throw-in and the player corroborated the story: "When we were getting food I got brought aside and I didn’t know before that. Davy brought me aside and just said I was starting. I didn’t know before that. I thought it was brilliant, I always wanted to start. But I was a bit surprised alright.

"He just brought me aside and said ‘we decided to start you instead of Darach.’ He just said ‘do what you always do’ and that’s go for goals. Sometimes they don’t work out but today they did."

It was his form behind closed doors in Cusack Park in recent weeks — he scored two goals in the A v B game last Friday week — that earned him his spot.

"The week before the U21 match and from then I have been going well. You just hit a patch of form and I just got it at the right time and I got put on, thank God."

Of his three goals, O’Donnell took most pleasure from his third goal: "I would have to say the third because the other two were absolutely put on a plate for me. I did absolutely nothing only two steps and then put it in the far corner – probably the third one. But if I was to pick one from the match, Conor McGrath’s topped all mine easily."

It was the stuff of fairytales for O’Donnell who followed in the same vein as another replay bolter, Walter Walsh, last year.

"You literally dream of that, from when you are a kid – going up to the Hill after scoring a goal because there is always a small delay between when it hits the net and when they roar. It is absolutely amazing.

"If I had a dream last night that I was going to score 3-3 I would have woken up going ‘that’s ridiculous, I’d be happy with one’."

O’Donnell only joined Twitter last week but already he has surpassed 2,000 followers. You can expect he’ll have plenty more wanting to know about him in the months ahead.