Round robin doing wonders for Clare, says Shane O'Donnell

If it counts for anything — and it should — Clare feel they are more deserving of their Munster final spot this year than last season’s appearance, according to Shane O’Donnell.

That would seem obvious after winning three matches, two more than last year’s semi-final over Limerick sent them into a provincial decider against Cork.

“It’s been a long time since we had success,” acknowledges the 2013 All-Ireland final replay hero. “We feel this is a better earned Munster final place than it was last year, but we certainly want to get our hands on silverware.

Leagues and that stuff are great and all, but Munster championship and All-Ireland finals are really what you are looking for when you start hurling at the start of the year. It will be a massive game, Cork are a great team but we are coming good.

The 20-year wait for Munster success gnaws at Clare and with that and their recent Championship losses to Cork in mind there is a sense they are ahead of them in the motivational stakes. And while Cork remain unbeaten after five matches, the feeling in the Banner is that the new round-robin structure suits them better than anybody given how poorly they have fared in the knockout system.

It’s been a topic of conversation among the Clare players, admits O’Donnell. “I was talking to John (Conlon) about it during the week, there was huge pressure on this one game that you were building up to for months and then there was a massive lay-off until another game. When you get to go week-on-week or every second weekend, there’s serious enjoyment in all of the games and you are going out and just enjoying yourself because you don’t have time to get hung up or get worried about it. It’s great.”

At the same time, getting through the four games over five weekends relatively unscathed was a relief for O’Donnell. “Yeah, it’s not too bad. Some nights I’d a couple of dead legs after shipping a couple of belts, but other than that I think we’re okay.

We probably had the ideal setup in that we had two games, a break, and then two games. We are in good shape and the two weeks now (to the final) will make a big difference.

Clare captain Pat O’Connor feels the toll on players has been more in their heads than physical.

“Take the week just gone — you were probably only coming down on Tuesday or Wednesday, and you were four days out from another match! The mental side of it is fairly exhausting; it probably occupies your thoughts the first thing in the morning and last thing at night.”

O’Connor hopes the Munster final offers Clare a chance to end Cork’s dominance over them in recent years.

“I could hardly call it a rivalry because they’ve had the upper hand since ‘13. I think they’ve won every single game bar the league game here in Ennis this year. I don’t want to think about it straight away, I just want to enjoy it (beating Limerick) because this was a special atmosphere.

"The hurling probably reflected it, it was physical, it was tight and the game probably didn’t open up until the last 10 minutes or so. It meant so much to teams, that the work-rate was going to be animal. Limerick are a seriously impressive outfit and they will be back.”

PaperTalk GAA Podcast: Flexible Clare reconnect with Banner army, patient Galway overcome jitters

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