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Clare joint-manager Gerry O'Connor (right) meets Wexford boss JJ Doyle ahead of the All-Ireland U-21 hurling final between their sides tonight. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Clare joint-manager Gerry O'Connor (right) meets Wexford boss JJ Doyle ahead of the All-Ireland U-21 hurling final between their sides tonight. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Clare joint-manager Gerry O'Connor (right) meets Wexford boss JJ Doyle ahead of the All-Ireland U-21 hurling final between their sides tonight. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Clare joint-manager Gerry O'Connor can distil the turning point in Clare's fortunes into one moment.

It's 2010 and Tipperary were on the verge of ending Clare's minor season when Tony Kelly stood up.

"It was a play-off game," O'Connor recalls. "We had lost to Waterford and subsequently beat Kerry.

"And we did well against Tipperary and had built up a three or four point lead. I remember Enda Boyce was sent off for a second yellow and Tipperary got a goal with three minutes to go and it certainly looked as if the careers of Donal Moloney and Gerry O'Connor were over.

"Then Tony Kelly just demanded a puck-out, caught it, and struck it over the bar. We've been on a roll ever since. There are very fine lines."

Five consecutive Munster titles and two All-Ireland crowns later and O'Connor and Moloney have built a lasting legacy, which could be capped with a third All-Ireland U21 win against Wexford tonight.

The core of that team, which has been on the go since 2010, will break-up after whatever transpires in Thurles. It might have come to an end before it even started that night against the Tipperary minors.

"No, not a chance (we'd have been kept on). We had no real profile within the county. Donal would have played a little bit of inter-county hurling, but the logic at that time in Clare was to promote guys from the '95/'97 senior squad.

Successful

"That was the thinking in Clare which was right because they were the most successful guys. Definitely if we had lost that game against Tipperary there would have been no way back."

Despite all the success, the side have kept improving. The minor semi-final defeat to Galway in 2011 left a bitter taste.

And for O'Connor, the side answered any questions over their stomach for the fight in their extra-time win over Tipp in this year's Munster semi-final.

"There was always question-marks in our head as a management team about the leadership quality within the group.

"They didn't really redeem themselves until that period in the second-half against Tipperary. That's when those guys went from talented, skilful players to leaders within the group."

And while they have a clear edge in experience, O'Connor denies that will have much influence on tonight's game.

"It's all about what's in front of you ... This particular group of players are only focusing on Saturday evening."

Irish Independent