It’s not often you hear a hurler admit he’s not exactly suited to a position. Don’t get Shane O’Donnell wrong, he absolutely loves being the only inside forward, but he wouldn’t say his is the ideal body size for the role.
Mention of Davy Fitzgerald’s comments in January that O’Donnell doesn’t get enough protection from referees prompts his confession.
“Maybe I could do with being bigger in general as a lone full-forward. It’s dangerous for me to voice an opinion on it.
“I have some sort of pace, without being the paciest. When there is that kind of space, it’s very fine margins. If something goes right, you’ll be in a position to score or get a goal. When you’re dealing with one-on-one, it’s either you get exactly what you want or you lose the ball and it’s picked up by the sweeper.”
With JJ Delaney retired and Joey Holden otherwise occupied with Ballyhale Shamrocks, it was left to Paul Murphy to shadow O’Donnell in their two league clashes last year. Murphy deservedly ended the season as an All Star corner-back but at full-back he had his hands full trying to marshal the Ennis man.
Having missed the quarter-final win over Tipperary, the 21-year-old will have an MRI on his foot today to confirm he’s okay to play against Kilkenny on Sunday. Because it’s Kilkenny, he’s giving it an extra push to be right.
“Whatever way it works, the games (with Kilkenny) are fantastic and they are a joy to play. That’s why I’m fighting to get back for this game more than any other game.”
O’Donnell would prefer to keep away from the weights but knows the duties asked of him mean he has to darken the gym door. “I wouldn’t be a major fan of the gym — I’d prefer to be out hurling. But it’s getting to the stage where if I come up against Paul Murphy and it’s a high ball — if I haven’t been in the gym at some stage in the year I’ve no chance, really.
“Lads are just bigger in general. Not compared to football really but lads are bigger. Strength and conditioning is coming much more into it.
“From my point of view, I’d prefer if everyone was my size and weight but that’s not going to happen. I don’t think it’s a problem. There is room for both size hurlers in every team. Lads like John Conlon — big, really able to hurl. Then we’ve a decent few smaller hurlers, myself, David Reidy.”
For a man who says he really does “enjoy playing as the one man inside,” O’Donnell accepts at the same time he won’t contribute as many scores.
“If I come out and take the ball, even with the man behind me the sweeper will come across and start to pressure. So if I suck up two, then I’ll be able to pass to somebody else. It just means I don’t score as much but it means others do, which I don’t have any problem with.”
Fitzgerald will always embrace players of O’Donnell’s height providing they have the talent and work-rate although their size is reflected in how the team lines out. However, O’Donnell doesn’t buy the theory Clare’s tactics are all that removed from Kilkenny’s.
“Kilkenny are the benchmark and everybody is trying to match them. But the different styles? I wouldn’t read too much into it, really. We don’t think we’re the bastions of a different style of hurling. We just go out and play to our strengths, or attempt to at least. Kilkenny do the same. They tend to be more effective at it, unfortunately.
“People think that Kilkenny’s style as simplistic but it’s not at all. The tracking, the working that those lads do... TJ Reid is one of the best defenders in the game. He’s incredible, the blocks and hooks he puts in. To say that they’re a simple, route-one team is not fair to their whole establishment. They’re an incredible working team as well as scoring one.”
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