Friday 30 September 2016

Shane O'Donnell: How a helmet saved my life

Published 20/05/2015 | 02:30

29 March 2015; Shane O'Donnell lifts the sliothar over the head of the Kilkenny goalkeeper Eoin Murphy to score a goal for Clare Allianz Hurling League, Division 1A, Relegation Play-off, Kilkenny v Clare. Nowlan Park, Kilkenny. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
29 March 2015; Shane O'Donnell lifts the sliothar over the head of the Kilkenny goalkeeper Eoin Murphy to score a goal for Clare Allianz Hurling League, Division 1A, Relegation Play-off, Kilkenny v Clare. Nowlan Park, Kilkenny. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Tuesday of Championship week and Shane O'Donnell sits easy in the chair.

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If there's any nervous tension about Sunday's Munster opener against Limerick, the goal-scoring hero of the 2013 All-Ireland final replay is keeping it well under wraps.

The occasion is the launch of the Bord Gais Energy All-Ireland U-21 hurling championship in the scenically situated Glendalough Hotel in Wicklow, and O'Donnell is one of the ambassadors for the campaign.

He may not walk on water - although the photo on this page might suggest otherwise - but if he can enjoy a run in the Clare team this year, O'Donnell will be walking on air.

There is also the background theme for Clare's U-21 team's ambitions to retain the All-Ireland title for a fourth successive year.

Reigning

No doubt that will become a talking point closer to July 15 when the Munster and national champions open their underage bid against the winners of Cork v Waterford.

First, a piece of good news.

Shane O’Donnell of Clare at the launch of the Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U-21 Hurling Championship in Glendalough
Shane O’Donnell of Clare at the launch of the Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U-21 Hurling Championship in Glendalough

O'Donnell's handsome features were not altered forever by a blow to the nose from a hurley that made spectators wince when they saw the impact.

The Eire Óg, Ennis clubman accepts the cuts and bruises as part of the game. The injury which he sustained against Kilkenny in the League relegation play-off in March looked like it caused serious damage.

"No it was fine. The helmet saved my life. I literally just had a tiny cut and it looked a lot worse than it was. It was just the way the picture was taken. Thankfully it wasn't as bad as it looked," he says.

No doubt, the females of the species are pleased he remains as photogenic as ever.

For months after the 2013 replay victory over Cork, O'Donnell was a real pin-up boy.

If he could sing, and Louis Walsh had got control of his career at that time, a lucrative future in a boy band could have taken off in the wake of the publicity his performance generated.

It was best illustrated by an excellent photo of the then 19-year-old being mobbed by Clare followers after the GOAL Challenge at Sixmilebridge - and it's teenage girls that form most of the throng around him.

He was in huge demand for media appearances and for photos with fans, and the attention became overwhelming at times.

"People still recognise you and stuff, but no one would stop you and say 'can I take a picture?'" he recalls. "I'm very thankful that things have gone back to almost resembling normal at this stage.

"Looking back, you would wonder if you could have done things differently, and what would have unfolded if you did things differently. It was a very crazy three months."

This is a guy who lives for playing hurling, but who admits he is not a fan of watching sports, and relaxes by spending lots of his spare time on computer games.

He is also a seriously clever student of genetics at UCC, so Niall Horan and One Direction won't be threatened.

Despite all the happiness and the celebrations around the Clare team after the Liam MacCarthy Cup success, the hype eventually ebbed away due to a disappointing 2014 for player and county.

"I think it was the worst year I've ever put down. It was very difficult, especially the nature of the senior games that were so close but which we lost," says O'Donnell, recalling an injury-blighted campaign.

"It was just difficult to take, and especially the senior game that we lost to Wexford. On the Wednesday after that I came on against Tipp (in U-21) for ten minutes, so I was nearly back.

"One more game and I'd have been back. It was a long year, a very long year."

The season so far has been marked by relegation from Division 1A and the row over disciplinary action taken against Nicky O'Connell and Davy O'Halloran.

Issue

It was an issue within the camp that became public and caused a big furore. For O'Donnell, it's water under the bridge.

"We were disappointed with the League campaign," he says. "But towards the end of it, things started to come together and we seemed to be going well.

"That Kilkenny game (relegation play-off) was near Championship pace. We were disappointed at the end but it was close to where we wanted to get."

On the discipline controversy, O'Donnell reckons that Clare go into the Limerick game as united as ever.

"We were all fairly content with everything that was dealt with. We didn't get involved. Everybody was fairly happy with it," he says.

"I'm not going to say it brought us together more because we're an extremely tight-knit group, as any inter-county squad is."

Irish Independent

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