“You have got to put a product together for people to buy. Maybe last year we didn’t put together a great product. Whereas, this year we feel we have a reasonable product to sell and the customers are coming to buy.”
Gerry O’Connor is talking shop and if there was an advertisement for the new and improved product that is Clare hurling this summer it was Shane O’Donnell’s point after a shuddering shoulder on Barry Coughlan in their Munster SHC Round 2 game in Ennis.
Since then, the consumers have been happy. A price couldn’t be put on what their team conjured up to see off Tipperary in Semple Stadium.
“I have never seen or felt emotion on any pitch like we experienced down in Thurles,” said the Clare co-manager, smiling.
“People were very emotional. It impacted on the players. We came in off the field and we made a promise to ourselves as a group and our supporters out on that field that the performance was not going to be a spike; it was going to be a standard that we were going to try to maintain for the rest of our season, and I think that did happen in the Limerick game.”
That game in Cusack Park in Ennis? Another unprecedented experience for O’Connor.
“It is very hard to describe it and it is a very intangible feeling. It does really impact on the players, that level of support.”
What’s sure is the vista in Semple Stadium this Sunday will be nothing like Páirc Uí Chaoimh in May or last year’s provincial final in Thurles, when the Cork following greatly outnumbered Clare’s support. Explaining the poor showing in the stands on Leeside, O’Connor felt Clare fans were keeping their money for the two home games and trip to Tipp.
The group, as much as their backing, have changed since the 2017 five-point loss to Cork, believes O’Connor. For one, there is not as much attention placed on the opposition. At last year’s pre-Munster final press conference, almost every interviewee spoke of Anthony Nash’s puck-outs.
“The main difference is that this year we’ve focused exclusively on ourselves rather than the opposition. We’ve added really good people to our backroom team, but the biggest single change from our perspective is that the players have taken ownership and responsibility for the whole project.
“They lead the analysis, they lead the team talks. They look at the opposition and come back to us and they outline where they see their opportunities.
“Because the players are the guys out there, they are the experts and they understand the opposition far better than we do. We take the feedback on board, we go to the coaches and the coaches implement a game-plan and a training regime based on what the players want.
“Ultimately, there’s no point players in the heat of a championship match looking towards the sideline for inspiration, because we’ve got to create an environment where they all become leaders and communicate throughout the game. It sounds very simple, but that’s the reality of it.
“I think you either learn very quickly in this game or you won’t be around long to learn. That’s the reality of it. We’re lucky that we have surrounded ourselves with a top-class coaching team and a top-class backroom team.”
O’Connor and Donal Moloney have never been afraid to put everything on the line. Their professional lives lend to that, Moloney working with DePuy and O’Connor the sales manager of drilling engineering firm Mincon.
When they felt the Tipperary game could have been the end for them, they meant it.
“In my world, where you work you’re judged on your results and them only,” says O’Connor. “You’re judged and measured on your performance. Rightly or wrongly, that’s how we judge ourselves as a management and that’s how we judge our players. We have key factors within that to use and judge our players. It’s important that they’re comfortable in that.
“There’s no point in saying we weren’t under pressure coming into that Tipperary game. I think it’s fair to say Donal and myself would have faded into the background because we had a two-year contract and I couldn’t see that being renewed and I couldn’t see an appetite within us to continue either.
Beat Cork and Clare will achieve the most complete Munster SHC success, having beaten all five competing sides. To do that, they must beat Cork for the first time in SHC since 2013 and take the lesson from that opening loss last month.
“If we were to outline anything, the positives were that we created a lot of scoring opportunities. The negative was that we didn’t convert enough of those. Our final pass in terms of goalscoring opportunities we created just didn’t find the last person in a position to execute.”
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