Shane O’Donnell was selected on the B team at a Clare training session two weeks ago.
The 22-year-old had just returned from a two-month spell on the sideline owing to a knee injury and management had no option but to play him on the reserve line-up.
The performance he delivered in response meant they had no option but to start him in Thurles.
By the 15th minute, O’Donnell had helped himself to 2-1. That was more than he had hit in either of the 2016 (1-6) or 2015 (1-3) championship campaigns.
By the finish, there was 2-2 written beside his name. He hadn’t done that much damage in a single championship fixture since that special September evening at Croke Park four seasons ago when he torched the Cork full-back line for 3-3.
More so than his two early goals, he enjoyed spending the afternoon out around the Clare half-forward line. There was a freedom to the role which he hadn’t felt in quite a while.
“It’s a different experience playing out the pitch,” he reflected.
“It’s a great position to be in when things are going your way. You have more time to express yourself and do something with the ball, instead of being very limited in your options in the full-forward line, having men around you all the time and stopping everything you want to do. You kind of get restricted to just passing the ball off at times inside.
"I’m not saying that’s not the right thing to do but it’s limiting. You could see that with the options the lads had inside there, Conor McGrath and Aaron Shanagher, they were laying ball off or winning frees, bar a couple of scores.
“So, I was delighted the lads gave me the freedom to play out around the middle. It was just about trying to get on the ball, follow it around a bit.
"And you know yourself, that can work out well like it did today or sometimes you can be like a spectator at a tennis match, with the ball going back and forth over your head. Thankfully today, it was good for me.”
That was certainly the case for his opening strike as he followed John Conlon’s delivery into the large parallelogram and when the sliotar broke kindly in front of him, he met it first time. And for a chap who hadn’t worn the Clare shirt since February 19, it was the ideal tonic to settle him into this Munster semi-final.
“It was and it wasn’t a long road back. Once I diagnosed the injury (torn cartilage in his knee) and dealt with it, it wasn’t all that long. But it was a couple of months of feeling a niggly injury that was constantly getting worse. If I added all that time together, it was probably four months.
“It’s the kind of injury you can play on with but it takes a longer recovery time every time you play. If I trained, it would take a week to recover. So I was going nowhere with it really. I had to get surgery to get it cleaned up.
“I haven’t had a year since 2013 where I haven’t had a serious injury. So trying to shake them off has been my biggest personal battle. Once you’re on the pitch, you don’t feel anything. You’re just enjoying the game.”
O’Donnell was one of nine Clare players to figure here who had prior experience of a Munster championship victory. The remaining 10 hadn’t. Moreover, none of them has ever played in a Munster final.
“I was just saying to Conor McGrath in the dressing room there, that’s only the second Munster game I’ve ever won and he was saying the same – and he’s on the squad a few years longer than me. It’s crazy considering the highs we reached a few years ago that that’s our Munster record.
And I think that’s what we had to have in mind coming in here today. With all the hype from Cork and Tipp, we couldn’t look ahead to anything. We have no right to look ahead to anything. We had to treat this game like it was the All-Ireland final.”
And like the sole All-Ireland final he was involved in, O’Donnell delivered.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved