Pat O'Connor: 'It is a massive challenge'
By Cian O'Connell
Clare captain Pat O’Connor is excited about the upcoming Munster Hurling Championship with four matches and drama guaranteed.
Sunday’s opener against Cork at Pairc Ui Chaoimh, a repeat of the 2017 provincial decider, carries huge relevance and Clare remain firmly focused on the considerable task awaiting Leeside.
While three matches will follow the Cork encounter for the visitors down south O’Connor is adamant about the importance of making a solid start. “Absolutely, sparing the cliches, how could you look ahead,” O’Connor says.
“Granted in the League we put massive pressure on ourselves with regards home games with an eye towards Championship, but a lot will hinge on the Cork game.
“Cork are the only team we are referring to and have been referring to for a couple of weeks since we came back after the League. It poses a massive challenge
“To a point we will have to block out a lot because we will be outnumbered heavily in the support stakes again. It is something we will have to adjust to, get the mindset right.
“We are really looking forward to it and it is a massive challenge. Those are the times you feel most alive when you are out on the field and you can hear the crowd. You can almost picture the blue sky and the hard ground. It is a massive occasion and something I can't wait to be involved in.”
O’Connor has enjoyed special and successful days for Clare, while also being involved when things didn’t go according to plan. Different experience have been accumulated, but O’Connor acknowledges that the Allianz Hurling League offered a good trial run ahead of the revamped Championship format.
“I think the League was definitely useful in that sense,” O’Connor admits. “The League fulfils its own purpose and it is a prestigious competition, but as regards getting ready for what is coming around the corner - recovery, week on week.
“In Championship you usually have this long build up and big long post mortem. The build up can be very drawn out, but this you are going to have to scratch it on the Monday evening after the Sunday game because you are going to have another massive one coming the weekend after.
“That is exactly what we ask for as players is more games, less training. That is what we have got so it is up to ourselves to apply ourselves now.
“The recovery will be a massive part of applying ourselves, looking after ourselves. You would love to be able to say you came out of the group and that you contributed heavily and consistently over the four games. That would be a massive achievement as well.”
O’Connor is very much in favour of the new Championship structure. “Definitely because it facilitates very high intensity hurling, very high intensity competitiveness, playing all of the teams on a round robin basis,” he replies.
“I suppose if you are good enough you will progress, if not you won't. There will be a line drawn under it and there will be other avenues open for your summer not to have it all consumed by hurling. Obviously you will go back to club hurling and things like that, but it is not unthinkable to get a holiday at this stage with this format which is something that was inconceivable going on the previous format.”