Clare captain Patrick Donnellan has already lifted the Division 1B league cup and the Waterford Crystal Trophy, but is eager for much more as he gears up for the county first Division 1 campaign in four years. Joe Ó Muircheartaigh spoke to the O’Callaghan’s Mills man.
HE’S only 27, but sometimes Patrick Donnellan feels old, maybe even of a different generation.
After all, he’s a seven-year championship veteran at this stage, having made his debut in the Munster semi-final against Cork back in 2006, while he’s played under five different managers – Anthony Daly, Tony Considine, Mike McNamara, Ger O’Loughlin and now David Fitzgerald.
But most of all it’s because of the growing number of colts now part of the panel – just out of minor, but already seniors, with that list set to multiply as the months open out towards championship.
“A few of us are in denial,” he laughs about elder statesmen like himself, All Star Brendan Bugler and former captain Brian O’Connell who made his championship debut back in 2004. “We’re in denial that we’re not as old as we think we are, but when you see some of the younger lads coming in you certainly feel older,” he adds.
But this sensation, the O’Callaghan’s Mills man quickly adds, is just fleeting because of what the transfusion of youth really means – the lift it gives the older members of the panel, by dint of the youngsters’ sheer enthusiasm.
“It’s brilliant with all the young lads,” he says. “They’ve great energy, great confidence and great belief in themselves. They’re great trainers and their lovely fellas – they’ve won titles and they’ve a huge amount of motivation and determination and it’s great that they’re bringing that into senior level.
“There’s a case to give them a year, a year to settle in and make sure that they’re not being pushed too hard, because it is a huge step up and it’s a different grade altogether because of the level of intensity and physicality, but there’ll be no fear of them. The motivation and the energy they bring is absolutely brilliant,” he adds.
A case of the rising tide of youth lifting all boats then as Clare gear up for their first Division 1 campaign in four years. Donnellan was an ever-present in that last campaign – the others survivors are Brian O’Connell, Brendan Bugler, Colin Ryan and James McInerney, Cian Dillon and Jonathon Clancy – and it acts as a sharp reminder of the pit-falls and quality of Division 1 hurling.
“We took a huge amount of confidence from winning the league last year, but the games in the next couple of months are going to be a big step up,” says Donnellan. “It’s a big step up from the last couple of years. It was a goal last year to get out of Division 2 and to progress and be playing the top teams on a consistent basis and giving ourselves more of a championship feel to all of the games that we’re playing.
“We’re delighted to be up and it gives us a good base and a good start to the coming year. The league will give a more reliable gauge of where we’re at.
“Things are going well in training. The whole point of having a big panel is that it’s competitive – it’s not just having 40 lads training, it’s having a group of lads that are all at the same level and going in the same direction.
“It’s not about having enough players at training for a game. It means nothing. It’s everything across the board, with all the players operating off the same page. That’s where the competitiveness, the intensity in training and the competition for places will come from. It’s hugely important. It’s the competitiveness that’s in the panel itself that will get the performances out in league and championship,” he adds.
Clare opened their last Division 1 campaign with a disappointing defeat to Waterford at home in Cusack Park – four years on another home game against the Deise will open their campaign with Donnellan and co keen to get off on a winning note this time around.
“It’s a new enough Clare team starting out this year and last year, so we have a lot aim for this year and hopefully we’ll start well,” he says. “The home games are brilliant because it gives us a chance to show the Clare supporters what we’re capable of. We’re hoping that they’ll come out and support us.
“You get a certain amount of confidence by having a good base of training behind you from a group that’s been together for over a year. But confidence is one thing, you need to start building on it.
“We know we’re still a young team with a lot of lads coming through from the minors and under 21s with great success behind them, but it takes time to blood lads and time to build a team so these are big games for us.
“The All-Ireland championship is small anyway, so you’re going to be playing the teams a good few times during the year, so the competitiveness is always there because you don’t want another side to get the one over on you.
“There is always one eye on the championship when you’re playing those league games. We’re just trying to focus on our own side and work on the things that we need to work on to make sure we get the performance everyday and make sure we challenging with these teams. We are looking forward to it and we’re hoping that we’re up for it and we’re hoping that we have a good league campaign to look forward to,” he adds.
Of course, the bigger goal is beyond challenging them – it’s beating them and bringing some senior championship silverware back to the county after 16 years.
Donnellan is one of only a clutch of players with any clear recollections of ’97, but it’s about making new memories and hew history now.