Patrick O'Connor craves more Clare success
By Cian O'Connell
Patrick O'Connor acknowledges that there has been a change in Clare's approach.
During lengthy interviews joint managers Gerry O'Connor and Donal Moloney also accepted that Clare are focusing far more on themselves this year.
At this stage 12 months ago Clare thought too much about Cork. "Absolutely, yeah," O'Connor admits.
"We have to hold up our hands when it comes to last year. We were beaten fair and square by Cork, worthy Munster champions and have proved it this year by probably having the most consistent run through the five weeks and are back in a Munster final again.
"But we definitely, and it’s something we have been guilty of in the past, of focusing on the opposition and what they can bring to it – their strengths. I think we neglected our strengths a small bit in the last couple of years."
O'Connor, though, is eager to highlight Anthony Nash's considerable influence for Cork. "The other side of it is Nash, he’s so much more than a goalkeeper – he’s basically like a quarter back," O'Connor adds.
"Some people call the centre back like a quarter back, but he’s like a quarter back. I think a lot of it comes down to bravery, I do believe a lot of goalkeepers have that in their locker, but it’s the courage to try it and brush it off if it goes wrong. It’s really admirable.
"He will get focus from us again this year and there’s no point in saying otherwise. But we set up quite defensively last year to try negate his influence on it, and I think it was definitely to the detriment of our attacking play."
It was a bitterly 'disappointing' occasion for Clare and O'Connor wants the Banner to produce at Semple Stadium this weekend. "In boxing terms you could say we never landed a punch, like," O'Connor reflects.
"It was disappointing, it was a tough pill to swallow, but maybe those are the days you have to go through to finally get there. A lot of lads say this team is in around the 2013 team, but when you look in that dressing-room, that 2013 team is more or less gone now at this stage.
"You have a couple of the guys left but there’s so much of a different look to it now.
"Maybe that day is what this team needed to go through to develop a more clinical edge, which is what I feel we would have now. I feel we if we were faced with something similar now, we’d sort something on the field ourselves. We’d come up with something ourselves.
"I don’t think we would let it happen like the way we did last year, and a lot of that is down to being allowed by the management and also from this run of games, you find out so much about yourself and your teammates in the white heat of Championship."
During the past two campaigns, though, Clare have improved considerably in Munster. "Starting in 2017 I had won one Championship match in Munster, then won one last year and won three this year," O'Connor laughs.
"A lot of the story around us last year, particularly before the Limerick game last year, was that we really wanted to improve our Munster Championship record – because it was dismal.
"It did not sit well with us at all. I think if we were to be successful in the Munster final, the really satisfying thing is that we’d have beaten every team and nobody could ever say that one was flaky or anything like that.
"We definitely did get the favourable draw, but any day you can say you beat all the teams, if we do, that would be one to really cherish."
With Clare embarking on a journey in 2018 the support and passion has been restored with O'Connor stressing the Thurles triumph over Tipperary.
"I got a funny story off a guy, he was there with his five-year-old daughter and he was beside this auld fella from Clare," O'Connor says.
"And when the final whistle went he just caught hold of his child and starting shaking her saying ‘don’t you ever forget this.’ So when I heard that, yes we are slogging away for so many months of the year, but those guys have invested nothing in it and they are still so emotional about it.
"There is a tremendous grá for GAA and hurling in Clare and I do think over the last couple of Sundays the new format has allowed us to reconnect with the crowd.
"If it was the old format we’d have been gone the first day and had an awful lot more questions hanging over us. The reconnection with the Clare supporters, I get the sense they are proud of this team now and see an awful lot of what they like in this team, which is really satisfying for us."
The increased physicality in Clare's forward play is something which has struck O'Connor. "A big factor has been how we’ve played well in Cusack Park, the manner in which we’ve played, particularly with the forwards, there has been a real element of aggression in their play, they are physically bullying some of the defenders they come across and that’s so amazing to see from down the field," O'Connor states.
Gathering more silverware is what Clare want to do and while a Munster medal would complete the set for the established figures O'Connor is excited by how younger members of the panel are adapting to the inter-county arena.
"There are new guys on our panel now that are just craving success, maybe who were a couple of years too young for the Under-21s or the seniors or the League, and they have been massive influences in our dressing-room," O'Connor comments.
"They are just craving success and we are just doing everything we can to get over the line because it’s the one medal that’s eluding some of us, a Munster Championship. It would just be so sweet, it would reward the Clare support and all our effort and those people that went through such tragedy as well that if we could get over the line in Thurles the next day."