Shane O'Donnell: 'I need to start performing'
By John Harrington
When you think of Shane O’Donnell, you think of those three goals he scored in the 2013 All-Ireland Final replay.
The eye-brows that were raised by his late call-up to the team went into orbit when the then 19-year-old hit the back of the net three-times in the first 19 minutes. The way he scored the goals resonated as much as the incredible feat itself. The fearlessness he showed when he clinically dispatched them struck you as something really special considering the magnitude of the occasion.
His performance that day seemed like the perfect distillation of youthful confidence, so it’s a surprise to find out three years later that O’Donnell is struggling with self-doubt ahead of the Munster SHC Semi-Final against Waterford. He’s had a catalogue of injuries since 2013, and the most recent one, a persistent ankle problem, seems to be playing on his mind.
Out of the blue he can be suddenly jolted by a searing pain in the joint and there has been fluid-build up and soreness after matches. For someone who trades so much on the ability to turn quickly and accelerate away from defenders, an ankle injury like this is hardly ideal.
O’Donnell made a sufficient recovery to play 44 minutes of the drawn League Final against Waterford and 64 minutes of the replay. He lacked his usual sharpness, and didn’t score in either game. It would have been unrealistic for him to get back to top-form immediately, but O’Donnell couldn’t help beating himself up in the aftermath of those two matches.
“I don’t see where I’m going to fit in unless I start performing kind of thing,” he told GAA.ie.
“I wasn’t impressed with my performance the last couple of games. It is frustrating; injuries are frustrating. By their nature not being able to do what you want to do kind of thing. You can’t do too much about it really. You just do rehab when you do get them and just deal with them, mentally more than anything else. But, they’re tough.
“Hopefully from a personal point of view I can just stay out of injury, stay off the side-lines. Because there’s nothing worse and every year bar last year seems to be hampered. There’s nothing worse and it’s so frustrating. From a personal point of view that’s what I’d be hoping for.”
Hurling fans will be hoping he can benefit from an injury-free summer too, because in full flight there are few more spectacular forwards than O’Donnell. He’s a born goal-scorer, and surge of electricity goes through the Clare support when the ball comes to him because they know he’s only got one thing on his mind.
He’s an instinctive hurler and it seems to come very naturally to him, so it’s another surprise to find out that he’s the sort of person who’s very self-analytical rather than someone who just let’s things flow.
“I’d love to be able to let it flow,” says O’Donnell. “Yeah, I’d be self-analytical, but I think everyone kind of is at this level. If they’re not then I don’t think they would have gotten to senior level. You have to be self-critical when you need to be but at the same time you do need to be able to say, “Well I put in the work or I did do this or that”, when things are good. You definitely need to analyse your own performance.
“But sometimes you just wouldn’t be in the head space for hurling. It can be a chore sometimes going back, but sure you have days like that, it’s just like bad days in general. In general, hurling definitely is a release. People say, “How do you do the two together?” I actually think they complement each other very well. When you get sick of one you have time for the other one and vice versa. And if one’s going bad you don’t have all your eggs in one basket and everything’s not going bad. One will be going fine and you can focus on that almost.”
It's not as much of a surprise that O’Donnell is the analytical sort when you consider how he occupies himself away from the hurling field. He’s just completed a degree in Genetics and intends to follow it up with a PHD that specialises in cancer research.
“It (cancer) is just so prevalent,” says O’Donnell. “People living longer, it’s only a matter of time almost. I think it’s 1 in 3 people will get cancer at some stage in life. That’s a crazy stat. After a couple years of genetics classes I just thought that it was very interesting. Not in a sinister way, but it is very interesting how it all works. I like being in labs, and I like being left to my own devices to a certain degree. I can kinda turn away and turn to my own stuff and perform experiments. I love it.”
Science is very much process driven and certain outcomes can be expected if you take a very methodical, step by step approach. Sport is less black and white, but O’Donnell thinks some of the same principles can apply.
“Yeah, sport is the kind of thing where you get what you deserve,” he says. “As in if you put in the training you will get better. You mightn’t get the results, that’s not how it works. But from personal point of view if you do the training you will get better and there’s not much things that really work like that.”
Clare’s 2013 All-Ireland Final success is commonly painted as a bolt from the blue, but that ignores all the hard work done in the ‘lab’ by all those who coached this generation of gifted Clare hurlers from underage right up to senior manager Davy Fitzgerald. Winning the MacCarthy Cup in his first year on the team was difficult to process for a teenager like O’Donnell, but he sees no reason why Clare shouldn’t believe they can get the chemistry right again in the coming years.
“It was strange because it was my first year and I didn’t know what to expect, full-stop, coming into the senior squad so everything was a bit of an adventure,” he says. “All the serious training, all the training camps, everything. Championship games, league, everything was all new for me anyway.
“But then it just kept going like that year, it just didn’t stop. It’s not surreal though because I don’t think it’s out of our grasp at all, to get back there again. I wouldn’t be looking back forlornly looking back and saying, “They were great times”, sort of thing.
“The last few years now since I’ve been involved it’s been blown wide open. Since then, I know Kilkenny have maintained a strangle-hold of some sort, but it’s not too far-fetched to say a good five or six teams could win the All-Ireland. It’s great to be involved in the mix. Obviously you would prefer if you were the Kilkennys winning every game and to be guaranteed All-Irelands almost. But it’s nice to be in with a shot at least, cause you know have a chance.”
If Clare can get a confident, fit and sharp Shane O’Donnell on the pitch this summer, then that chance will increase greatly.