Clare hurling legend Jamesie O’Connor believes that supporters of Munster’s hurling counties owe it to the players to attend games in this year’s championship.
O’Connor, an All-Ireland medallist with Clare in 1995 and ’97, was the guest speaker at the launch of this year’s Munster championships at the Mallow GAA Complex last night and he used the opportunity of his keynote speech to plead with fans to show their support.
“I was involved with the Munster Railway Cup team earlier this year and it was incredible to see the conditioning of these lads,” he said.
“I knew that Clare were training savage hard but it was amazing to see the shape the lads from the other counties were in.
“They’re professionals in all but name, and I would love to see us getting back to the days like when Clare and Limerick clashed in 1996 and there were 35 or 40,000 people squeezed into the Gaelic Grounds.
“I’d love to see Clare and Cork or Clare and Waterford playing in front of packed houses in earlier rounds before the Munster final, I think that it’s the least the players deserve.
“I hope that this year the public vote with their feet, will appreciate the product that we have and the efforts made and get out there and support their counties.
“I’m really looking forward to it, it has the makings of a great campaign.”
O’Connor believes this year’s hurling championship is the most open of recent times, and that aspect, coupled with the historically democratic dispersal of titles, will ensure it always retains a special place within the GAA.
“To me, the Munster championship was special, it is special, and I think that it’ll always be special,” he said.
“This year in particular, every one of them will take to the field thinking that they have a chance of winning it.
“I think that this year’s championship is wide open. You look back on who has won it in the past 20 years, Tipp have six, Cork have five, Waterford have four, Clare have three and Limerick have two.
“There is no other provincial championship that has that array of winners, and each of the five has been in a Munster final in the last five or six years.”
While the back door – not present in the early part of O’Connor’s career – has meant that the Munster championship is no longer do-or-die, he still thinks it holds the same affection.
“When we used to start training in January, or even November, we’d only be thinking about May 23, or June 4 or whatever the date of our first Munster game was,” he said.
“That was the day you had to be ready for, and all we ever spoke about was winning Munster.
“It meant a huge amount to, and I think it still means a massive amount to the players.
“I remember the 1997 Munster final against Tipperary, I had never before played a championship game in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and to say the atmosphere was electric would be an understatement.
“I played in three All-Ireland finals, but that day was the greatest atmosphere I had ever, ever played in.”
Munster chairman Robert Frost echoed O’Connor’s sentiments in his own speech.
“People talk about all of the different kinds of systems, but I think that the provincial championships still have a lot to offer,” he said.
“The Munster Council distributes money from grants and invests in coaches, so all in all it would be very dangerous for us to do away with the provincial system.”
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