Clare captain Pat O'Connor: ‘There is no such thing as a bad Cork team’

Clare captain Pat O'Connor

There is no such thing as a bad Cork hurling team, Clare captain Pat O’Connor has insisted.

The Banner travel to Páirc Uí Chaoimh this Sunday as the Munster SHC round-robin kicks into gear, and although Clare comfortably dismissed the Rebels during the league, O’Connor believes they’ll be an altogether different proposition this weekend.

Clare’s league win at Ennis in mid-February was their first competitive victory over Cork since the 2013 All-Ireland final replay. Cork had won the subsequent two league meetings between the counties, as well as their championship collisions in 2014, ‘15 and ‘17.

When reversing that trend in early spring, Clare dominated their opponents during a first-half where the visitors to Cusack Park failed to score between the 12th and 32nd minute and went half an hour without a single score from play.

Clare led 0-16 to 0-5 at half-time and while Cork made a much better fist of matters in the second half, the four-point gap at the finish did not accurately reflect the winners’ overall superiority.

That first half against Cork followed a pattern in our league where we played very strongly for a period and then teams got back into it against us in the second half. I’d be at pains to emphasise that you can’t just totally whitewash a team of their quality,” said O’Connor.

“When teams are so competitive at the top, it is a very romantic notion that you will dominate a team for 70 minutes. Cork have so much quality on the field, they did come back that afternoon. The first-half was very satisfying, but there was plenty to work on from the second, plenty to work on when you take the league as a whole.

“Cork was our focus at that time, but we didn’t come across them for the remainder of the league so we didn’t keep much of an eye on them. You are all experienced enough to know there is no such thing as a bad or below standard Cork team. They will be good [on Sunday], they will be fiercely competitive, fit, sharp, and strong.”

Under the new system, counties have four opportunities to put points on the round-robin table and bolster their chances of progressing to either the Munster final or All-Ireland preliminary quarter-final. O’Connor, though, reckons Clare’s Munster campaign will hinge largely on how they fare at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

In the league, we put massive pressure on ourselves with regards home games with an eye towards championship, but a lot will hinge on the Cork game.

“They are traditionally a powerhouse in Munster. This team is no different and playing at home, there will be savage pride attached to them. They are opening Pairc Ui Chaoimh. To a point, we will have to block out a lot because we will be outnumbered heavily in the support stakes again. It is something we will have to adjust to, get the mindset right.

“We are really looking forward to it and it is a massive challenge. Those are the times you feel most alive when you are out on the field and you can hear the crowd. You can almost picture the blue sky and hard ground.

“It is a massive occasion and something I can’t wait to be involved in.”

The 27-year old defender, part of the Clare furniture since 2011, is equally excited about four championship games across five weekends. Last year, they were afforded a five-week break between their Munster semi and final outings. There’ll be none of that caper in the months ahead.

“In years past, you usually had this big, long build-up and then a big, long post-mortem. And then another big, long build-up before your next championship game. Now, you’ll just have to scratch the game when it is over because you have another coming down the tracks the Sunday after. That is exactly what we asked for as players; more games, less training.

It is up to ourselves to apply ourselves now. The recovery will be a massive part of how we apply ourselves and look after ourselves. You would be surprised at where your mind can bring your body, especially on the back of a big Munster championship victory.

“If you win by a point, you’d go again for 70 minutes the day after because your adrenaline would be pumping.”

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