Patrick O'Connor: 'People have the utmost respect for them'
By Cian O'Connell
It has been a demanding winter and spring for Patrick O’Connor, but the Clare captain is on the verge of returning to inter-county action.
An operation to cure a niggly shoulder problem at the end of last year is on the mend and while O’Connor doesn’t expect to be involved in the Allianz Hurling League, the Tubber native is on the last lap of his arduous recovery process.
“It is coming along well now, I keep telling myself that I'm ready to go, but the professionals probably aren't agreeing with me,” O’Connor laughs.
“It will probably be another four weeks I'd say, I wouldn't be expecting to feature in any of the League at this stage which is a problem for me.
“The opportunity to impress management - there aren't too many of them when you throw in a round of club games between now and the Championship. I'll be chomping at the bit to get back as soon as I possibly can.”
"I was quite frustrated, not at the surgery or anything like that just the situation I was finding myself in."
When Tubber’s Championship journey was ended in Clare in 2016 O’Connor wanted to sort out the ailment which has bothered him on and off for the last 18 months.
“It was a funny one because I didn't get a blow or anything like that, it is best described as wear and tear, it flared up last year and it flared up the year before,” O’Connor says.
“I just got through it with strappings and stuff like that. Then at the end of last year when club commitments finished I went up to see Eanna Falvey and he put me on to Ruth Delaney up in Santry.
“She agreed that there was something wrong in there alright, but she wouldn't fully know until she went in. Time frames of six weeks, maybe eight weeks were thrown around before the operation.
“It was only when I woke up from the operation that I found out it was a good bit more serious. Four to six months was what I was told at the time and it will be four months now in April.”
How hard was it to take when that news was delivered? “I only found out on the recovery table. When you come around you aren't that coherent so it took another day or two before it really sunk in. I was quite frustrated, not at the surgery or anything like that just the situation I was finding myself in.
“Last year ended with such a frustrating performance and exit, you were just trying to get back, to do everything possible to put your best foot forward, to push on again.
“We won the League last year and we wanted to push on again from that. I'd no doubt the team were going to do that, but I wasn't going to be a part of it. To have that put in front of you was a bit frustrating.”
O’Connor, though, was named as Clare’s captain by new managers Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor. Not being able to assist Clare on the field has examined O’Connor’s resolve. “Yeah, it has an added another layer of frustration,” O’Connor admits.
“You feel like a spare part to a point. I've been trying as best as I can to have a word with, particularly new guys in here and there, about how to get through training and to help the body adjust to inter-county life and the level of training you do.
“As regards matchday it is a thing I've been finding most frustrating, the fact that you really have nothing to offer out on the field. I've never experienced any long term injuries before so it has been frustrating.
"I suppose being captain you certainly have to be positive, to be a positive influence around the place, but matchdays is what I'm finding the most frustrating.”
"They often open up a forum for players to discuss and debate things, that fosters an environment where guys are willing to give their all."
With injuries and Ballyea’s AIB All Ireland SHC involvement, Clare’s Allianz Hurling League Division 1A campaign has been impacted. O’Connor, though, is adamant that the new managerial duo can enjoy further glory with the Banner County.
“The vast majority the boys they have had their hands on already and been successful already,” O’Connor remarks.
“People would think positively about them. The couple of guys they didn't have before they'd obviously have respect for how they handled themselves and their record with underage teams. Immediately you see they are serious guys.
“Another element of it is how they apply themselves off the field. They are both highly successful men in their professional careers.
"It all adds up. They are very serious guys, the set-up they bring is so professional. There is so much clarity in what they do and bring, there are no grey areas.
“They often open up a forum for players to discuss and debate things, that fosters an environment where guys are willing to give their all. People have the utmost respect for them.”
The feeling is mutual with O’Connor considered one of the leaders of a Clare outfit that hope to recapture the dash and dynamism of 2013.
Sunday’s Allianz Hurling League tussle with Waterford, a repeat of last year’s decider, brings an exciting challenge, but being ready for the Munster Championship is Clare’s ultimate focus.
“The endeavour has always been there from the guys, they are really applying themselves well in training,” O’Connor states. “When all the jigsaw pieces do fit together hopefully it will be a team capable of competing strongly against Limerick on June 5. That is our priority.”