‘We will hurt together and heal together’, Patrick O’Connor’s solemn parting words as he made his way towards the dressing room in Semple Stadium last July after witnessing his Cork counterpart Stephen McDonnell lift the Munster Cup.

It wasn’t the result that hurt most but the fact that Clare didn’t rise to the Rebel challenge. And on the eve of the captain’s second successive Munster Final against Cork, that burning desire to make amends still rages it seems.

“We would feel anyway that we really want to turn up and perform this time. Cork are worthy Munster champions, they beat us fair and square last year but we didn’t raise a gallop, didn’t land a punch and essentially didn’t perform. And that really didn’t sit well with us and made it a long winter looking back on the season that had just gone.

“So regardless of the opposition, the carrot to get back to a Munster Final and just perform this time to show our county and the entire hurling community what we can do was something that we wanted to chase down really hard.

“Added to that, I definitely think our place in the Munster Final is so much more hard-earned this year. We’re there on merit and no-one can question it and just as importantly we’re there with momentum and with players in serious form. The team has good shape to it, there’s a good system there and in general, it makes training and the build-up all the more enjoyable and does give you that extra bit of confidence going into this year’s Munster Final.”

The confidence on the field is mirrored in the stands where the numbers have risen considerably since their first home championship outing in 20 years against Waterford in Round 2 to spark a newfound attachment to Clare’s flagship side for the first time since 2014.

“Even if no Clare person turned up the next day, what we saw in Ennis on two days and Thurles as well was really, really special. We were all Clare people those days as the players and supporters just came together. There were stages that they were fighting our corner for us and it just shows you the lift that it can give you when you have a vocal support behind you. 

“And whatever way Cusack Park is set up, when you hear that Clare support, it really fills your ears. And I’m sure it has an impact on every player when they hear that because while the Limerick game mightn’t have lived up to what expectations might have been, I think the occasion was really something special in the Park.”

Fortress Cusack Park has certainly been a major factor in Clare’s revival as they brushed aside the ailing challenge of Waterford before pummelling neighbours Limerick into submission for their biggest Munster Championship victory in 20 years to cement their return to the decider last time out.

“The fact that we have gone unbeaten in the Park means a lot to us and I think the Clare support have seen what it means to us in the edge we have when we play there, I think has reconnected them with us.

“Maybe we were accused before of not really playing with an edge but the determination and aggression that has come out in the last few weeks showed that it means an awful lot for us to wear the Clare jersey, to hurl for Clare and represent the people. And that Cusack Park is our home and if we are going to go down there, we are going to go down fighting.”

“Even if no Clare person turned up the next day, what we saw in Ennis on two days and Thurles as well was really, really special. We were all Clare people those days as the players and supporters just came together. There were stages that they were fighting our corner for us and it just shows you the lift that it can give you when you have a vocal support behind you.

O’Connor’s passion extents to his band of brothers that have carried the county from transition and now appear more equipped to make their provincial breakthrough, something that makes him proud to be their designated leader in the parade this Sunday.

“Leading Clare and being nominated as a captain means an awful lot to me because of the tradition and the men who have done it before but I think the most sense of pride for me is being chosen as the representative of all the guys on this panel. 

“There are players in the squad that would inspire you in the way they talk, they way they play, the way they train and if you had children you would want them to be like those lads because they are loyal, defiant, really, really strong guys of character.

“So that means the most to me that I have been chosen as a representative for them because I have enormous time for every guy in that dressing room.”

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