THE interview wasn’t especially long — just over seven minutes, but it was plenty of time to peer into the 20/20 vision of Gerry O’Connor’s eyes.
It could be summed up as thus — the 4th of June. Indeed, over the course of those seven or so minutes O’Connor namechecks the 4th of June no less than seven times.
It’s an alarm; it’s a default setting and reference point — call it what you will — that can make and shape Clare’s season.
Ok, in the era of second chance saloons in championship it’s not do or die just yet in terms of the All-Ireland Championship, but it is where the mission to right the wrong of Clare’s unrequited love with the Munster Championship is concerned.
An unrequited love that’s 18 years and provincial championship campaigns in gestation at this stage — ‘you’ve been too gone, for too long’ as Randy Travis sings us.
And that’s why Munster is do or die for Clare this year — that sense that it’s time to stand up and shout stop to that poor record.
“This is what it’s about,” says O’Connor referencing the importance of this championship opener. “We feel as a group that we’re going to be judged. We also feel that it will bring pressure and if it does then so be it, because ultimately we need and we feel that Donal Óg (Cusack) and Liam (Cronin) and Jimmy (Browne) and all the coaching team have worked really well at ensuring over the last five to six weeks that we will deliver a top class performance on the 4th of June,” he adds.
That 4th of June mantra as well as the match comes in what is arguably the most important phase of Clare’s season — the beginning of the process where the championship challengers will be separated from the chaff.
“To be perfectly honest with you since that draw was made back in October our primary focus has been on the 4th of June and on Limerick,” he says. “We want to test ourselves as a management team and as a group of players — we want to test ourselves to ensure that we are on the right path over the last six to seven months,” he adds.
A huge challenge concedes the Éire Óg clubman as both himself and joint-manager Donal Moloney and selector Jimmy Browne step forward into the heat of senior championship fare for the first time in their coaching careers.
“We have been relatively successful at minor and Under 21 level,” says O’Connor, “but this is a completely different level again. It’s a real opportunity for us to challenge ourselves to see if we are up to that task because ultimately that’s what this is about.
“We basically got involved in this set-up to work with a fantastic group of players and then we as a group test ourselves. No better place than Thurles on the 4th of June to do that.
“Of course it brings pressure, but these guys in mine and Dónal’s experience thrive on playing in Thurles in pressurised situations. That’s the pitch that these guys have grown up on as far as I’m concerned. These guys love performing under pressure in Thurles,” he adds.
O’Connor, of course, has been here before — all the All-Ireland Under 21 finals were here, so too was what must now be viewed as the landmark moment that was the Munster minor title win of 2010, while Munster Under 21 final win in Semple over Tipperary in 2013 was equally defining.
Their latest run-out on the home of hurling came last Tuesday when they played Waterford in a challenge game to familiarise themselves with the venue once more.
“We have had an excellent opportunity to put five or six weeks of really intensive training in and the players have responded magnificently,” reports O’Connor.
“Everything that we’ve asked them to do they’ve done it. The mood is the camp is very good. Since the ground hardened up about two to three weeks ago the training has been excellent.
“Donal Óg and his team have basically put these guys though a programme over the past five to six weeks and they have responded.”
The fruits will found on the field on Sunday hopes O’Connor, who’s already braced for a huge test. “I don’t think there’s any other way to call it than 50/50,” he says.
“I was at a press briefing during the week and I was reflecting back the way form goes completely goes out the window in this game.
“If you even go back to ’95, the Clare and Limerick Munster final down in Thurles went against all known form, then the same the following year in the Gaelic Grounds. I was at both of those games.
“Form is irrelevant. Myself and Donal know this from being involved with the Clare minors and 21s, whenever we came up against Limerick the form went out the window because it was a local derby.
“Ultimately what we need to do is focus on the things that we can control to ensure that we are the team that’s most focused at the best possibly prepared.
“We know that Limerick are going to be extremely focused and prepared. The team that’s most focused an prepared will prevail on the day.
“It’s going to take everyone of the 20 players that will be playing in the course of the game to absolutely give their all. We know exactly how good these guys are having seen them in training, particularly in the last two months. They have to transfer the form they’ve been shown on training out onto to pitch on the 4th of June.
“From our perspective and from Limerick’s perspective the prize is huge. Clare will be looking at it as a massive opportunity but so will Limerick. Yes the prize is great, but ultimately we’ve just got to focus on in the 4th of June and giving a top class performance.”
And we know how focused Clare are. The 4th of June is tattooed on mind, body and soul, after all.
And on the hurleys too.