It's hard to see Clare coming out of Munster - O'Connor
"Listen, it's one of the great imponderables," says Jamesie O'Connor, casting his mind back to what the Clare hurlers were just five years ago - and wondering what exactly they are now.
"How is it possible for a team to play with the élan and verve (they did) in Croke Park in 2013 and haven't been back there since? If anything they look further away than ever, but it is what it is."
Ahead of Sunday's championship opener against Cork, Clare find themselves occupying a peripheral role, at best, in discussions about the All-Ireland shake-up and, for O'Connor, the worst thing about the last few years is they've no one to blame but themselves.
"You can't say that we have been robbed or anything, we just haven't produced our best form on the big days. We just haven't been good enough since."
Last year Clare slumped to a five-point defeat to Cork in the Munster final then allowed Tipperary to knock 28 points past them in the All-Ireland quarter-final in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
But O'Connor has heard the talk about 2013 being a flash in the pan and, as a two-time All-Ireland winner himself, he's not having it.
"I don't care what people say, there is no such thing as a soft All-Ireland. The lads deserved it in 2013. You couldn't say they rested on their laurels and didn't put the work in the following year; if anything they worked too hard. I think we simply haven't been good enough and that is the harsh reality."
And when he looks into his crystal sliotar ahead of the 2018 championship, O'Connor doesn't see much changing.
"You have to be realistic and say we don't have the depth that Kilkenny, Galway and Tipp have and defensively, are we good enough? It is hard to see us coming out of Munster but it is not inconceivable.
"The first game is massive. If you win that, with two home games to come, it is possible they might get on a roll but I just don't think our defence is good enough."
There is hope, however, for Clare folk digging out their hats, flags and headbands ahead of the trip to Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
"We have a quality inside line," says O'Connor. "(Conor) McGrath on his day is top-class, (Shane) O'Donnell with the right ball is a serious weapon. I just think we have to get ball into those players. We didn't do that last year."
In their last clash with Cork in February, Clare ran out four-point winners in Cusack Park, but O'Connor knows that result will mean diddly-squat come Sunday.
And as much as the new format takes the pressure off players, he believes it's a must-win.
"Get a result in Cork and it is a huge momentum-turner. Lose to Cork and there is real, real pressure - doubts creep in and you will start to look at yourself."
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