O’Connor: Clare has all the tools to defeat Limerick


Patrick O’Connor will sit out his third Munster final this Sunday due to continued rehabilitation from a cruciform injury. However, as captain of Clare’s last two provincial deciders, he would be only too delighted to see the Banner finally close a 24-year gap with their last title at Semple Stadium.

“I’m in a different place now in that I’m currently transitioning from straight running to twisting and turning and in this current condition I wouldn’t have a place on the court. Maybe it will be be different six or eight weeks later, but for now I’m happy to support the guys on the sidelines.

“Listen, there are so many guys out there I’ve worked with for a long time that there wouldn’t be anyone happier in Thurles on Sunday to see John [Conlon]Tony [Kelly] or guys like that get their just rewards for sticking with it and pushing things forward and sliding standards over the years.

“Brien [Lohan] also you have to say he did an amazing job of first galvanizing the band and then galvanizing the county to the extent that everyone is now rowing behind him. So you would be so happy for the band and the amount of work they put in if they got their reward on Sunday.

That thirst for a Munster crown has always been there, but as O’Connor reflects, it was in 2017 that the players themselves focused on trying to reach that pinnacle.

“I have to say playing in a Munster final was special. I mean growing up with Munster stories Last day it was great to finally say you experienced it yourself because we had them long enough watched at home or in the stands.

“We felt we had a team that could do something and going back to 2017 we had done a big thing in the squad about the fact that we had never really threatened to do anything at all. Munster.

“I mean to date 98 is the last time we have won a Munster title but more worryingly there has only been one more visit to a Munster final in the meantime and that was in 2008. So you had a lot of great players who had never graced a Munster final and we really wanted to address that.

“At that time it was still the old format so our first game was a semi-final against Limerick and we immediately identified a path to a Munster final having to win just one game and we were determined to do so.

“For the Munster final itself, there must have been a mistake with the tickets because there were 95 per cent Cork supporters at Thurles and it was a real cauldron.

“You could almost say it was a home game for Cork and it turned out because the result was a bitter disappointment. We didn’t play the way we would have liked and threatened at times to open them, but we ended up with too much to do.

In 2018, the hurling landscape changed dramatically with the installation of a new round-robin format, with Clare returning to the Munster decider after four league exits, a clear validation of their eventual merits.

“One hundred per cent. With the round robin, we definitely felt we deserved our place in the Munster final the following year a bit more.

“And look, again, we left it behind us against Cork, but I have to say we pitched as well as ever for the first 35 minutes of the day. Well, 34 minutes anyway because Cork knocked us down for 1-1 just before half-time which finally got them back in the game.

“The place was electric that day, the Clare supporters were full behind us and I will also never forget that we were in the middle of a heat wave because even there were patches of grass which were burned at Semple Stadium. .

“So with this huge support it was a real Munster final atmosphere, it’s just that we came out on the wrong side of the result again. It still hurts a lot but all you can do as as a player is to continue.

The ongoing debate over whether Clare could have stopped Limerick’s revolution in its tracks had they reached the All-Ireland final that followed that year still haunts Captain O’s thoughts at least. Connor.

“We would have beaten Limerick in 16, 17 and 18 in the Championship and also in the Championship games so we certainly didn’t fear them and felt we had the advantage over them. But realistically what happened happened since, you can’t justify it now.

“Everyone knew Limerick had something special coming up but you have to take your hat off to them because they were outstanding. The greatest compliment you can give a team is knowing that they will give everything on Sunday because his set-up is excellent and we know that the training is excellent because of the regularity of the performances.

“So I think that Limerick team was coming regardless, but what an occasion would have been an All-Ireland final between Clare and Limerick.”

Of course, it could still happen this year, but Clare needs to take on the powerhouse of Limerick for the Mackey Cup first, which is entirely possible due to Clare’s impressive upward trajectory.

“Based on the evidence from this year so far, Clare appears to have bridged some of that gap between Limerick and the chasing pack now. Brian [Lohan] put together a really, really strong, fit and mobile unit and I think they have all the tools to really put it in Limerick on Sunday.

“It’s a great opportunity in that you can just have a cup and whatever happens you have the bank of Munster’s Championship campaign as well as an All-Ireland series to look forward to as well. That’s really set up to get a hell of a fit and see where you’re at.

“We’ve had three matches against them already this year and the last two in particular were arm wrestling to the highest degree and there’s no sign that Sunday will be any different.

“Sometimes you can think too much about trying to avoid a particular team or qualifying in third place, but I really think that to get to that level and be the best, you have to play the best as often as possible. C is the only means of a true evaluation.

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