SPEAKING at the launch of the Renault World Games 2019 at Waterford Institute of Technology a few weeks back Clare’s double All-Ireland winning captain Anthony Daly covered an awful lot in a couple of sentences as he ran his camán over Clare’s championship prospects for the 2019 season ahead.
This was the broad sweep with one flash of his ash — the year and his hopes in microcosm.
“Clare need him, they need Peter Duggan hitting form, they need John Conlon right, they need Aron Shanagher back, and he is back and going well I believe. Look, if Clare get everyone on the pitch, you’d be optimistic,” said Captain Fantastic.
In a way he was asking for loads to go Clare’s way before a ball has been pucked, because they don’t and won’t have everyone. Ian Galvin is out, so too is Jamie Shanahan, while Conor McGrath hasn’t come back due to his ongoing recuperation from injury.
That’s three very good men down.
But they have the Wofle Tone Shanagher — fully fit after he only made a few cameos at the tail end of last year’s championship; Clonlara strongman John Conlon is right after his ankle injury; Peter Duggan is raring to go and hit the type of form he produced in 2018, while they also have him.
Him is Shane O’Donnell, whose return from Boston after his eight-month sojourn as a Harvard Scholar as part of his PhD in microbiology research, has breathed a fresh impetus into Clare’s championship preparations and countdown.
“It’s just great to have him back,” said Conor Cleary when speaking at the Munster Championship launch in the Gold Coast Resort in Dungarvan last week. “When you hadn’t a player of that calibre for the league — to be able to call him in for championship is a big boost to the team,” he added. Joint-manager Gerry O’Connor went further, saying “Shane is a huge boost, he has come back a completely different guy. The maturity and the leadership that he is offering in the dressing room has just been huge over the past four to five weeks. You can see that he missed it being away”.
And O’Donnell himself is energised — by the downtime and complete break from the game during his research block, and by his own surprise about how much he missed the inter-county bubble and by the buzz since his return.
“For the first four months of the six I was there I enjoyed a complete break from hurling,” he told Marie Crowe in a revealing interview with The Sunday Independent last week. “But then I started to go back to it instinctively. I was watching league games and wondering what was happening at home.
“I was surprised by that because I don’t watch games here in Ireland, I would never watch a hurling game. When we get knocked out of championship that is the end of my interest in inter-county hurling for the year, so I was surprised I was getting up early in the morning to watch games.
“If I couldn’t find a link I was on Clare FM listening and had Twitter up in front of me. I was becoming that person that you might see in a video online, an estranged expat who hasn’t been home for 10 years watching their county play. I’d always wondered if I would disappear off the hurling sphere when I stopped. I didn’t, and I won’t, which is nice to know.
“When I’m here at home I spend so much time hurling and training and I didn’t appreciate it because I’ve had so many years of it. I realise now how much I enjoy it. I appreciate the entire structure with all my friends. I enjoy the tough training and testing yourself and pitting yourself against other people. When you step back from it and then consciously re-engage, it’s enjoyable to be aware it’s happening,” he added.
This insight for the Éire Óg man, who is likened to a greyhound chasing a hare by committed coursing enthusiast Anthony Daly, has all the appearances of him returning a better player for this American experiences.
“A huge boost, massive,” said Daly at that World Games launch.
With the hope that he can help light up Clare’s summer with those around him.
“It’s a competitive championship but there is always a belief that anything is possible,” said O’Donnell. “I’m really excited, especially because I missed so much of the league and I was watching those games and I was jealous of the guys playing. I want to perform and I’m looking forward to it. I perform best under pressure so I’m trying to find new ways to put myself under pressure,” he added.
The pressure will be on over the next couple of months.