Clare hurling legend Jamesie O’Connor says the Bannermen have “rediscovered their mojo” and will still be involved in the championship come August even if victory is not secured against Waterford on Sunday.
Having failed to make an impression in either 2014 or last year, O’Connor believes the pressure is off Davy Fitzgerald’s side heading into their Munster semi-final meeting with Waterford in the wake of their promotion from Division 1B and outright league success.
The two-time All-Ireland medal-winner is still keen to see a Clare victory so to correct, if nothing else, the county’s “deplorable” record in Munster – Clare have managed to win only five games in Munster since their last provincial title success back in 1998 and have won only one Munster championship fixture in the past eight years.
“We seem to be winning the games we were losing 12 months ago. Winning breeds confidence and that has fed into the performances the lads have given,” O’Connor told Clare FM.
“Once promotion [to Division 1A] was attained, it was as if the shackles were off and the pressure was off everybody. If we had lost that [Limerick] game, I think the Waterford game would have been massive. There would have been huge pressure going into it. With the league title in the bag and with promotion secured, I think the pressure is off Clare to an extent.
“We have rediscovered our mojo, we are playing well, we have a deeper panel than maybe we ever had. We have found a few new players: David Fitzgerald, Oisin O’Brien, even Darach Honan has rediscovered his form.
“We are in a good place and even as hard as it is going to be [on Sunday], if we weren’t to come out with a win, I still think we would be a force through the qualifiers and the backdoor. You want to come through the front door, but I think Clare are going to be hurling, hopefully, into August this year.”
He added: “There is a massive prize at stake [on Sunday]. We have a deplorable record in Munster. We have four wins since 2000. That is a shocking stat for a county like ours given the record we had in the 1990’s.”
Four-time All-Star recipient O’Connor is adamant the county has benefited from a spring spent in the league’s second tier; their favourable 1B fixture schedule allowing management to look at 31 players over the course of the spring.
“In 1A, the games are so competitive. If you lose your first two games, straightaway you are under pressure to avoid relegation. You are in a corner and you don’t have the same scope to try out new faces. If it had been Limerick in the opening round, we would have had to be ready for that because promotion was only going to come down to the two of us. It worked out perfectly it was the last game. We were able to build slowly. That was the day we had to be ready for and we were. 1B did us no disservice. The evidence is there – the last two league champions have come from there and it might do Galway no harm to be there next year.”
Former Waterford hurler Tony Browne, meanwhile, reckons Derek McGrath’s charges must learn how to close out tight encounters if they are to add championship silverware to last year’s league title. “The replayed league final was a fantastic game. I think Waterford probably should have nipped that game. It is something this young team will have to develop.”
Browne continued: “Tony Kelly will be a factor [on Sunday]. He is a fabulous hurler. It is a big decision for Derek whether or not he puts a man-marker on Tony. We are waiting for a big game from Kevin Moran and if Kevin Moran comes on form, that could have a big impact on the game. ”
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