Shane O'Donnell: 'I don't care about scoring as long as Clare are winning'
All-Ireland final hat-trick hero Shane O’Donnell happy to turn Banner provider, writes Michael Verney
It's nearly three years since Shane O'Donnell put his name in lights with a hat-trick of All-Ireland final goals, catapulting himself into GAA mega-stardom as Clare powered to Liam MacCarthy success, but now he's more than happy to turn provider.
A passing glance through the list of teams and scorers each hurling weekend would suggest a string of frustrating days at the office for O'Donnell as sweepers are regularly deployed to negate his threat. However, his role has evolved remarkably since that heady September evening.
He openly admits that his finest hour was served up to him on a plate by his team-mates and he is merely repaying the favours. In his four League games the bare figures show that he scored no goals and just one point.
All around him Conor McGrath, John Conlon and Colin Ryan are totting up impressive tallies for the Banner. Figures don't always tell the full story, however, and last year's Championship opener against Limerick is a perfect example as O'Donnell hit a single point despite scorching All-Star full-back Richie McCarthy.
At 21 he displays huge maturity. Scoring averages don't bother him and he thrives in creating rather than scoring in his isolated role in Clare's full-forward line. He exemplifies the new breed; long gone are the days of the burly No 14 parked on the edge of the square awaiting aerial bombardment.
"I do enjoy playing as the one-man inside. I really do like it," the Bord Gáis Energy Ambassador says as Bord Gáis Energy announce they will continue to sponsor the U-21 All-Ireland Hurling Championship until 2020. "If you get a bit of space and are not double-marked, you tend to have, not freedom but a lot of opportunities to do damage.
"When there is that kind of space, it's very fine margins. If something goes right, you'll be in a position to score or get a goal. When you're dealing with one-on-one, it's either you get exactly what you want or you lose the ball and the sweeper cleans up.
"If we're pulling men out, there's usually a sweeper because they'll have an excess of backs. It just means that I don't score - which is fine. If the ball comes in then, the sweeper will come to me. A man outside or something is going to be the one scoring. To be honest, I don't care. If a player scores, it's all the one."
Earlier this year Davy Fitzgerald suggested that referees were not protecting the precocious Éire Óg attacker believing he is being dished out unacceptable treatment which is going unpunished. O'Donnell chooses his words carefully on the matter as it's "dangerous" to comment, for obvious reasons.
Instead he deflects the criticism back on himself. At just short of 6ft he feels he has brought some unwanted trouble on himself having never fallen in love with the gym. It's not optional in the modern game, however, and he admits smaller players cannot survive without it.
"I wouldn't be a major fan of the gym - I'd prefer to be out hurling. But it's getting to the stage where if I come up against Paul Murphy and it's a high ball - if I haven't been in the gym at some stage in the year I've no chance really," he says.
"I'd prefer if everyone was my size and weight but that's not going to happen. I don't think it's a problem. There is room for both size hurlers in every team. Lads like John Conlon - who are big, really able to hurl. Then we've a decent few smaller hurlers like myself and David Reidy."
A foot injury kept O'Donnell (pictured) out of Clare's last two League games but he hopes an MRI today will clear him for their Sunday's semi-final showdown with Kilkenny, a meeting of the last five All-Ireland winners and a radical clash of styles, which hasn't yielded a Championship meeting since Clare's All-Ireland triumph.
"People think that Kilkenny's style is simplistic but it's not at all," he explains. "The tracking, the working that those lads do. TJ Reid is one of the best defenders in the game. He's incredible, the blocks and hooks he puts in. To say that they're a simple route one team is not fair to their whole establishment.
"We don't think we're the bastions of a different style of hurling. We just go out and play to our strengths, or attempt to at least. Kilkenny do the same. They tend to be more effective at it unfortunately."
The wheel has turned for the UCC student, who hopes to complete a PhD in cancer research, but defenders should be on their toes, that goal-scoring itch isn't far from the surface.