Criticism of Collins brothers 'ridiculous' - Shane O'Donnell
In Saturday night's All-Ireland U-21 final, Clare's Shane O'Donnell has a season's worth of frustration to squeeze into 60 minutes.
That's not the only reason he won't want the game to end. Barring a replay, the curtain is likely to fall on a golden era of Clare hurling. Five consecutive Munster titles across minor and U-21 level make this crop exceptional. A third U-21 All-Ireland in a row would be the fitting way to end a ground-breaking adventure.
As O'Donnell puts it: "Whatever happens at the weekend, it will be very emotional when that group breaks up."
O'Donnell outlines that this is a tight-knit squad. And even though Podge Collins and his brother Sean aren't eligible for the grade, he has watched with interest the reaction to their decision to play football only in 2015. Some of the bullets that went their way were, he says, were unfair.
"He (Podge) is a fantastic footballer and a fantastic talent. He gets to decide what he does. Some of the stick he is getting, it's ridiculous.
"They are the ones with the talent to be able to play both and he gets to decide what he does with it. I know he wants to give football his full attention. He says it has a great set-up. There's not much more to say about it. But yeah I'm sure he could hurl for Clare again in the future," O'Donnell reflects of his good friend's decision.
If last year's All-Ireland final hat-trick hero doesn't want to dwell much on the issue, perhaps it's understandable. Saturday is a chance for the Eire Og clubman to round off a stop-start year on a high. Incredibly, he didn't see senior championship action this year and even his U-21 campaign has been dogged with injury.
He's fit enough - just about - to start against Wexford in Thurles after recovering from a cracked knuckle. At this stage, O'Donnell is just happy to be in the running to play.
Perhaps there had to be some rough to go with the smooth. Even Disney wouldn't have entertained a straightforward sequel to his All-Ireland replay heroics last year. And O'Donnell reckons he can trace the origins of his hamstring troubles that have dogged him this year to a fundraising event.
"I was doing a Strictly Come Dancing thing for Clare," he recalls. "It would have strained it in different ways that you'd never do in hurling. It weakened it. And then I probably went and did a couple of hard trainings and it was weak and it just went."
Still he recovered enough to get back in the Clare side that won the league quarter-final against Laois. O'Donnell found the net (twice) in customary style but in a club game his hamstring would go again. The blow coincided with 11 exams in UCC where late nights and time constraints had to come before rehab.
The injury was complicated further by the fact that it was high on the muscle and combined with Clare's briefer-than-expected summer, 2014 passed by without him seeing a minute of championship action.
"It's been extremely frustrating and a very difficult year but sometimes things happen like that," O'Donnell says. "I've had bits and pieces of injuries but the only really serious injury I had was when I damaged my knee that I had to get an operation on. I had a really clear run at it the year we won the All-Ireland and the difference it makes is huge."
The U-21 campaign has been only slightly better. When Tipperary brought the Banner to extra-time in the Munster semi-final, joint managers Donal Moloney and Gerry O'Connor took a punt on O'Donnell. He hadn't played in the seniors' defeat to Wexford just a few days earlier but with a season on the line, O'Donnell was introduced and found the net.
"Then when the Munster final came along I hadn't done much training. I was fortunate that the lads picked me on what went before rather than the few weeks in the run-up to the game.
"And I was delighted. To miss out on that would have been very frustrating. You would have taken it to heart. I mean, I would have accepted the decision but it was great to get a game and get back to playing."
Still, disaster lurked around the corner in that game. With Clare in total control, O'Donnell was caught on the hand with a stray hurley.
"Colm Barry, the Cork full-back, got my number and apologised the next day," he explains. "That was good of him. He was frustrated at the way the game was going. Those things just happen sometimes." A scan revealed a cracked knuckle and meant more time on the sideline but he now is fit for the final clash with Wexford.
Many of the same players that ended Clare's defence of Liam MacCarthy will feature and O'Donnell sees big things for the county in the coming years.
"They are having a renaissance something like we had last year. To be honest in the two senior games against us they were unbelievable on both days and deserved their win. They have some really good players.
"We got to see them against Galway after we played Antrim in the All-Ireland semi-final and they were brilliant. Their work rate and tackling was incredible."
Wexford, you feel, will have to bring their best to stop O'Donnell having another big say in an All-Ireland final.
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