Banner's rising stars have big names on edge - O'Connor
CLARE have so many players challenging for a place in the team that last year's All-Ireland-winning heroes must prove themselves all over again.
That's according to wing-back Patrick O'Connor, who on Sunday was the only member of the All-Ireland-winning team to start against Limerick in the Waterford Crystal quarter-final in Sixmilebridge.
Surrounded by young, exuberant team-mates, who were all striving to impress manager Davy Fitzgerald in Clare's first outing of the year, O'Connor experienced at first hand the depth of the Banner's pool of talent.
It was underlined by an impressive performance which yielded a six-point win.
"You see the quality of those lads - like everyone else, I'm just trying to keep my place. You probably saw 18 to 20 lads last year, but there 38 lads on any given day who could give a performance like that," said O'Connor.
Among the impressive emerging players is Clarecastle's Bobby Duggan, who scored 0-12 against Limerick (0-9 frees, 0-3 from play) in a memorable debut.
A minor last year, he looked very much at home in senior company and was described by O'Connor as "a class act".
"He works seriously hard. You see the scores and the catches but look at his turnovers and tackles," said O'Connor.
"I'm a firm believer in making your own luck and, when you work as hard as he does, luck will come your way. When it does, he has the quality to back it up."
Cathal 'Tots' O'Connell (Clonlara) was another newcomer who impressed on Sunday, taking on bigger, stronger opposition with unrelenting intent.
"He works hard and is very skilful. We're blessed with a lot of those players at the moment. It's the hard work that makes a winning formula. We'll try to keep that up," added O'Connor.
With so much other young talent challenging the established front-liners, Clare's training games will be fiercely intense over the coming weeks before Fitzgerald trims his panel.
O'Connor is glad to have returned to basics after the lengthy celebrations which followed last year's All-Ireland triumph.
"We're hurlers. It's what we do. We've been written about in papers and appeared on sports programmes and things like that, but training and playing matches is what we really like to do. It's good to be back doing that," he said.