For Shane O’Donnell, a successful season has already been declared.
Clare have yet to contest Sunday week’s Munster hurling final against Limerick and there’s the guarantee of more beyond that but just over four weeks ago O’Donnell had already cashed in and taken a healthy profit away once referee James Owens threw in the ball to commence Clare’s opening Munster Championship game with Tipperary.
Being on the field at that moment was “enough”. Even progression to a provincial final is still benchmarked against that feeling.
Less than a month earlier O’Donnell acknowledges that his inter-county career was still in doubt as he weighed up a potential return following a challenging 2021 with concussion.
A heavy blow to the head at training forced him out of Clare’s championship campaign and while he got back to play with Éire Óg in the closing stages of the local senior championship, inter-county resumption still seemed some distance away.
“I came back training at the end of March,” he recalled. “I would say it was early March when I pulled the trigger and said, ‘OK, I’m going to come back into it’. I was waiting for a sign off from the specialist that I had been seeing last year. I just said that I was going to go back to him, do another full thorough assessment and I’ll go back and if he has any doubts, that’s it, I wouldn’t.
“I put it in his hands and he basically said I was 100pc and put it back to me, left it in my court. So I decided to go back. When you are anxious about it, exposure is the main treatment so getting back on the pitch was definitely the right decision.
“It was tough to come back into it,” he admitted. “Definitely I had a long few months wondering if I would be on the pitch at all and it was a major milestone just getting on to the pitch and togging out with Clare.
“I’ve rolled a few challenges over the last few weeks and I have got over that psychological challenge of thinking every time I got a clip to my head, I’m going to get set back to where I was last year. So yes, I have can safely say it is behind me.”
He has been a revelation at wing-forward, his first touch and movement to meet puck-outs and make space for himself is making so much happen for Clare.
It’s a reset for him, not just physically but tactically too and as momentum grows in Clare a real sense of happening permeates through the county now.
“Everyone is feeling it. There is a good mix of young and old in the panel and the vibe inside and around the county is brilliant,” said O’Donnell.
“People around are feeling it. When you come in and just work hard, the crowd appreciate that on top of everything else, never mind the result.
“Obviously when you get a couple of good wins under your belt, people want to come and see. The crowd has been brilliant, especially the last day and last Sunday again.”
Winning a game so convincingly that they didn’t have to, as they did against Waterford on Sunday (3-31 to 2-22), was a sign of a team looking to the future. They led by 13 points at half-time and were 17 ahead before Waterford mounted any worthwhile resistance.
“Clare teams have maybe not been as ruthless as we need to be when we put ourselves in good positions at half-time. We’ve been aware of that this week, this year even. We really focused at half-time that we weren’t going to leave the foot off the pedal at all.
“Mentally it was difficult but everyone put their shoulder to the wheel, we’ve a really good mental performance coach with us, we treated it like any other game this year.”