Anthony Daly wrote in these pages yesterday about how the emblems on their chests can be all that separates Clare and Limerick, but there are an increasing number of occasions when even their jerseys are spun from the same wool.
Paudie O’Brien knows all about that having shared many a dressing-room with men from the Banner in college.
His is a career that has been shaped in no small way by Clare folk.
Tony Considine was manager of his Kilmallock club when they claimed a first Limerick title in 16 long years back in 2010 and Ger ‘Sparrow’ O’Loughlin was at the helm as they navigated all the way to a Club All-Ireland final two months ago.
O’Brien has had kind words for both in times past.
Davy Fitzgerald, too, the man who will manage Clare against his own Limerick tomorrow and who chucked him into the fire of a Fitzgibbon Cup final with Limerick IT when he was still just a fresher. The Limerick defender isn’t even sure if he was even eligible to vote at the time and the decision is all the more noteworthy now that first years are ineligible for Fitzgibbon Cup and the fact that O’Brien was struggling to kick on with the county at the time.
“Davy always gave me a lot of confidence and I always enjoyed every game I played with Fitzy and with LIT and all the friends that I made there,” said the defender. “I never hear a bad word out of his mouth about me anyway.
“I rate him very highly as a manager and as a coach and, come (Sunday), I’ve no doubt he could be roaring at me or doing whatever, but I like that about him. I respect that about him. You need characters like that in the game.” Limerick IT didn’t win that final, falling to Waterford IT after three extra-time periods, but Fitzgerald had set a template for the side in the demands he made of his players and the backing he gave to those who responded with everything they had of themselves.
“A lot of the Limerick lads that are there now were in LIT under Fitzy and a lot of Clare lads and what not,” said O’Brien. “You ask a lot of them about professionalism back then, what Fitzy brought to them was unbelievable. It was better than a lot of inter-county set ups. You would be guaranteed his teams will be fit. They’ll have a plan and they’ll hurl for him, so I’ve all good stuff to say about him.”
It is an interesting insight into a man whose managerial approach doesn’t float all boats and O’Brien believes that the spring storm that erupted over players leaving the Clare panel has blown itself out long before tomorrow.
Clare’s talent is praised, their tactical acumen noted – including a liking for pulling an opponent’s half-back line out of their prepared entrenchments – but there is the underlying certainty in Limerick that this game must be about what they bring to the table rather than Clare.
Their last meeting serves as warning. Against Tipperary and Cork in the summer of 2013, Limerick had been ferocious, but that workrate had ebbed by the time August crept in. The end result in that All-Ireland semi-final demonstrated as much.
O’Brien knows his stuff when it comes to hard work. In October he graduated with a Masters in Building Science and is working now in Stryker Orthapeadics as an engineer. He also had a baby daughter only ten months ago and reached a club All-Ireland final with Kilmallock in March. Busy times.
“It probably still comes down to, if you see the stats after the game, whichever team tackles the most,” the 25-year old explained. “Whichever team had the most turnovers generally wins and whatever team takes their chances.
“If you don’t have as many wides as the other team and you get a couple of turnovers, tackle pretty well and stay within a certain number of frees conceded you generally will get over the line. (Hurling) is changing the whole time but nine times out of ten it comes down to who works the hardest.”
It didn’t take a Clare man to tell him that.
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