Cathal O’Connor has been a revelation for Clare this season, with his upsurge in form coinciding with his return to Clare after a three-year stint in Edinburgh. He spoke to Joe Ó Muircheartaigh ahead of Sunday’s Munster semi-final joust with the Rebels.
Cathal O’Connor out to engineer success over Cork
IT’S a field in the heart of what was old industrial Edinburgh — on the waterfront along the Firth of Forth that stretches out towards the university and golf town of the Royal and Ancient at St Andrew’s.
But the home of golf wasn’t a magnet for the young emigrant engineer away from home — instead it was the football field in Granton, the one belonging to the Dunedin James Connollys. Edinburgh’s Gaelic football team and with whom Cathal O’Connor sought out some collective training.
“Now and then I’d join and train with them,” says the Coolmeen man, “but it was mainly training on my own, out on the field and then in the gym, before I’d come home every Friday for training and matches and then go back on the Monday. It was tough and it takes its toll and you wouldn’t be getting the best out of yourself.,” he adds.
O’Connor was in Edinburgh for three years, but now he’s home — the benefits of which can be seen on the football field. Indeed, O’Connor’s coming form was flagged before a ball was kicked in this year’s National League campaign.
“Watch out for Cathal this year,” predicted his manager at Coolmeen Martin Daly. “He’ll be a different player this year and you’ll see how much he’ll come on with training and the ball work he’ll be getting by training with the squad. He’ll be a big player for Clare his year,” added the Lissycasey and Clare legend.
“He’s been brilliant,” says Clare boss Colm Collins, “and a real driving force for us, because he’s a great worker and has had a great year,” he adds.
For O’Connor, it might be exaggerating it to say he’s been an overnight success in the midfield engine room after six years, but it still has that feeling to it.
His Clare debut came in February 2009 when he came on as a sub for Peter O’Dwyer in the opening round National League victory over Carlow in Dr Cullen Park, with his championship debut coming that same year when he replaced Paul Reidy during the defeat to Limerick.
But it wasn’t until 2011 that he made his first full championship start when lining out at left half-forward against Cork in Páirc Ui Chaoimh, it was another three years before he tasted a championship victory for the first time with the replay win over Waterford in Dungarvan.
“I was in Edinburgh for three years and took a year out of inter-county when I went over there first,” he reveals, “but Mick O’Dwyer came in two years ago and he gave me a call. The boys had got to the Munster final the previous year in 2012 so I kind of wanted to come back into it.
“Since coming back for good I’m a lot fitter than I would have been before and the sharpness on the ball and stuff like that — I’m a lot better than I would have been in the last couple of years. If you’re playing constantly and if you’re playing well, you’re going to enjoy it and there has been a big improvement. It has made a massive difference I would say and I’m playing much better — you can see the difference,” he adds.
O’Connor’s rejuvenation and coming of age was showcased in his storming display in the quarter-final win over Limerick, when midfield dominance provided the winning platform during a dominant first half by Clare.
“Gary takes all the plaudits and does all the hard work,” laughs O’Connor. “I do the defensive work and let him push on and try and do a bit of damage at the other end.”
And how it has worked, with Brennan’s haul of 0-4 from play and O’Connor’s huge shift between defence and the half-forward line and in the air around the middle blitzed the Shannonsiders.
Now for more of the same.
“If we can break even around midfield and keep it tight at the back we will score up the other end — we have some good forwards that will get scores for us,” he says.
“The scores will take care of themselves, there’s no fear of that because we have plenty good enough forwards that will score for us.
“Obviously they’re a serious outfit and are obviously a Division 1 team and did very well in it — they probably didn’t play as good as they could have in the final against Dublin but they’re going to be a formidable outfit and we’re going to have to be at our very best to beat them.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re going to play Cork, it’s never going to be easy. We’re just going to have to be at our best. If we are, there’s no reason why we can’t put it up to them and beat them down there.
“We can’t have them spells, those 15, 20, 25 minute spells when we’re not getting scores. We have to try and keep the scoreboard ticking over all the time.
“If you go that long without scoring you’re in trouble, we’re not going to keep Cork from scoring, so we’re going to have no chance if we’re not going to score for those lengths of time. We’re not going to win if that happens.”