O'Connor hopes Clare can summon response
By Cian O'Connell
It remains one of the great sources of conversation surrounding the Clare hurling team.
Since the dreamy, floodlit Saturday All Ireland success in 2013, Clare have only hurled once in the Championship at Croke Park.
The intervening years have brought plenty of harrowing moments for a team that appeared set to dictate the agenda.
"That’s a question we’re all trying to answer," former Clare star Jamesie O'Connor admits. "We assumed in 2013 that look it, this was it, there was another great era going to unfold where we’d be going to Croke Park every summer, but for whatever reason it didn’t materialise.
"Were we as good as what we thought? Obviously the cards fell our way with Kilkenny and Tipp being out of the Championship but look, we still had to win it and no-one can ever take that away from those players. They were deserving winners and what a year it was but it was certainly a disappointment for me as a supporter not to see that team back in Croke Park until 2018."
That All Ireland semi-final thriller, when the teams drew at GAA headquarters, was followed by a cruel Semple Stadium replay loss.
"Even then, we saw how well they acquitted themselves and it was just the width of a post that beat them that day," O'Connor recalls.
"The other thing I suppose that we have to accept is that the opportunity has passed now and we’ve slipped back down the pecking order so look it, I can’t put my finger on it.
"It will certainly be a regret for that panel of players that they didn’t make it back to another final.
"Look it, this year is another year and who knows, there’s still talent in the group that if they perform at their best, they are as good as anybody - Shane O’Donnell and Tony (Kelly) obviously - but "I’m not sure if we’ve the depth coming behind them that Limerick and Tipp might have and I can’t see us making the latter stages of the Championship and that’s unfortunately where we are.
"Much of that is down to the players we don’t have available this year and that’s out of everyone’s hands."
The fact that Peter Duggan, John Conlon, Colm Galvin, and Podge Collins aren't available for the upcoming Munster Championship is significant for Brian Lohan according to O'Connor.
"We knew that Peter was gone at the start of the year and he was always going to be a big loss for us," O'Connor says.
"Then losing John Conlon to boot was a huge blow, that’s arguably our two biggest ball-winners gone out of the forward line.
"Colm Galvin has shown serious consistency going back to his Under 21 days, he’s been a phenomenal player and the Podge obviously has opted out as well so it’s far from ideal.
"Playing Limerick and the poisoned chalice of playing Tipp then after, the draw hasn’t been kind either so there is genuine concern that we’re not as strong as we’d like to be or we’d need to be but look, it’s up to the other players now like Tony Kelly and Shane O’Donnell to step up and provide leadership and get the best out of themselves and be as good as they can be.
"We’ve seen at this level that if you’re not where you need to be, you can get tanked. Obviously we didn’t front up against Limerick last year.
“It’s a local derby so you’d be hopeful that the lads can restore some of the pride that we lost last year and hopefully the lads will give a good account of themselves but certainly, Brian will have a much weaker hand than he would have had at the beginning of the year."