If there’s a message Clare want to get across, it’s that they know their support will be outnumbered on Sunday.
“Cork will bring a massive crowd the next day,” stressed Colm Galvin. His captain Patrick O’Connor expands: “I can already picture the sea of red when we go out and it will probably be three to one Cork. I think it was two to one Cork supporters wise against Waterford.”
Memo to Cork — Clare will have steeled themselves for a game that, as far as they are concerned, may as well be played in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Their knowledge of their opponents goes beyond 2013 and Dónal Óg Cusack’s understanding of the puckout and his former understudy Anthony Nash, O’Connor having lined out for CIT alongside Lorcán McLoughlin in the 2011 Cork championship when they lost the final to Carrigtwohill.
The following year, his opposing captain on Sunday Stephen McDonnell and centre-back Mark Ellis were Fitzgibbon Cup team-mates. “I’d still be friendly with a cohort of the Cork hurling team that I played in college with and I got to know other guys through the guys I knew,” he says. “What it means to me? I don’t think it would be any different if we were playing Tipperary. They are a massive, massive hurling county. As I keep being reminded, they are a county Clare haven’t beaten too often! I suppose it is just the fact that both teams are there on merit. Whatever history is there or what has gone before is irrelevant, they are two kind of different teams.”
Neither O’Connor nor Clare need to be informed much water has passed under the bridge since 2013. Although he has been ever-present in championship since then (he’s actually missed just one SHC game since his debut in 2011), the Tubber man faced a battle to be fit for the semi-final against Limerick having undergone shoulder surgery at the end of last year.
Five months of rehabilitation culminated in him returning to training on April 7, the same evening as Conor McGrath came back following a similar operation.
His reappearance was six weeks earlier than expected but there was nothing premature about it as he did enough to start against Limerick.
In the past, there would have been sessions he would have preferred to avoid but he couldn’t wait to get into the thick of things — even if there was little sympathy for his recovering shoulder. “Gearóid O’Connell tested me out one day when I wasn’t looking. To be honest, it was more my fault that I wasn’t up to the speed of training. They were doing this particular drill, congestion in the middle, I was probably a bit lethargic and not clued in well. I didn’t know actually what they were doing, it looked like madness to me because I hadn’t done it before. So I got caught in the middle, I was left on my back. After that I was thinking I survived it, I was happy, I wasn’t made of glass. I can take it again and there is no point in wrapping it in cotton wool.”
His lack of match fitness was hardly noticeable in the win over Limerick although he conceded he was breathing heavy after the opening few minutes. “The tongue was stuck to the top of the mouth, but it kinda settled again. When the second wind comes you settle and you get more comfortable in your surroundings.”
Captaincy has been known to cripple players but O’Connor harnessed the pressure to force his way back into the team. And then there was the onus the management and players put on themselves to reach Sunday’s final.
“Absolutely, we laid our cards on the table at the start of the year. No talks of All-Irelands, All-Ireland series, it is Munster final, it is Limerick. We put all our eggs into the one basket, to beat Limerick.”
And while it may be a novelty for Cork who at the outset of the competition were the least favoured team to reach a final, the stage is just as unknown if not more to Clare.
“We can’t wait to go out to tackle it because we have never been in the position. This group of Clare players has never prepared for a Munster senior hurling final so we are just delighted, absolutely delighted that we are preparing for Cork in a Munster final.”
As much as he will be hoping to prove otherwise, he knows there’s an irresistible element to Clare’s opponents. “They are a fine team, they play hurling the way it should be played, hard and fast and direct. They seem to be all backing each other up, you can see that on the sideline as well.”
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