Alone, Shane O’Donnell may well stand as Clare’s sole full-forward line representative in Thurles on Sunday but as he showed in the relegation play-off in Kilkenny last month when he gave no less a defender than Paul Murphy a long afternoon it suits him to a tee.
“I think any forward would tell you that as much space as they can get is what they want. One man full-forward line facilitates the man inside to have space all over the place. You ask any back and it’s their worst nightmare dealing with that situation.
“So forwards are naturally the opposite, that’s what they want. Anyone would revel in that situation, I think. That’s the way we end up sometimes, people dragged out the pitch, it just ends up so much space inside.”
Shane O'Donnell launching the U-21 All-Ireland Championship at Glendalough today. Pic Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE pic.twitter.com/vpcaRFkBLr— The Clare Herald (@theclareherald) May 19, 2015
In Glendalough yesterday as a Bord Gáis U21 All-Ireland hurling ambassador, it’s obvious O’Donnell is revelling in the simple but essential pleasure of being fit.
A handful of days before facing Limerick and he cuts a figure of a young man delighted to take the field again after a most trying 2014.
On March 16 last year, he bagged 2-2 against Waterford in a round four league game in Ennis. He registered another brace of goals in the quarter-final with Laois only for his hamstrings to give way. He didn’t play for Clare seniors again until February just gone. After his glorious 2013 All-Ireland final replay performance, he never had the opportunity at least on the field to test out the “second difficult season” theory.
“Before I got injured, I felt my hurling was going well. I’d an infinite pool of confidence from the All-Ireland the year before. I don’t know, I just thought it would roll off and go from there. It was a very stop-start year, very frustrating.”
From the flash associated with being Ireland’s No1 selfie magnet, he quickly became a flash in the pan. “To say an All-Ireland is a one-hit wonder — there are so many games to win an All-Ireland. I was getting called a one-hit wonder for a long time back last year.”
The hype has died down now. He’s at least grateful for that. In an interview early this year, he spoke about how ill-fitting his newfound fame was. But for him these days it’s “as normal as it’s probably going to get. People still recognise you and stuff but no one would stop you and say ‘can I take a picture?’.”
Finishing third year genetic exams in UCC and travelling home and training via Limerick these past few weeks, the odd quip has been made to him about Sunday’s game. “Driving through the toll to Limerick, you’d get a kind of a little comment or a remark or something.”
He’s back in Ennis now but the four lads in Cork he shared a house with all hail from Limerick including current U21 hurler Pat Kelleher. “I keep away from the Facebook chats and all that.”
O’Donnell confesses to remembering little of the Clare-Limerick rivalry only for his cameo appearance at the end of the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final.
“I’m going to look bad now but I’m desperate for watching matches. I wouldn’t have ever watched games. If I wasn’t playing hurling now, I’d have no interest.
“I find watching sport very difficult so I’d never go watch matches,.
“But just hearing it more from my family, ‘Oh Clare-Limerick coming up’. It’s just everyone knows it’s a big deal. Even around the club, at matches and stuff, it’s just the talk of the town and that.”
A month ago and Davy O’Halloran and Nicky O’Connell’s exits from the panel was the only topic of conversation around Ennis. With O’Halloran going to the footballers and O’Connell returning, O’Donnell says the matter’s now closed. “Everything was dealt with. We were all fairly content with everything that was dealt with. We didn’t get involved. Everybody was fairly happy with it.
“I’m not going to say it brought us together more because we’re an extremely tight-knit group, as any inter-county squad is.”
What’s more, O’Donnell feels Clare are primed to remind people again of what they are really worth. “I think the week of the championship every team starts to feel confident, that ‘yeah, I’m ready’.
“I really do think we’re in a good place right now. You’d be surprised how quick it creeps up on you. I’d exams for three weeks. I only finished last week. It was head in the books so you don’t even think about hurling. But that’s it now, I’m done for the summer.”
In a good way, of course.
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