Thursday 22 February 2018

Unfinished business in Munster driving O'Connor and Clare

Patrick O'Connor is looking for more from hs Clare side. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Patrick O'Connor is looking for more from hs Clare side. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Jackie Cahill

Patrick O'Connor admits that Clare's recent record in the Munster Championship is unacceptable and "irks" the current group of players.

O'Connor, a member of the Banner's 2013 All-Ireland-winning team, said he would harbour "regret" if he doesn't get to experience big days in the province before the end of his inter-county career.

Team-mate and 2013 Hurler of the Year Tony Kelly recently suggested scrapping the Munster Championship and introducing a Super 8 or Super 10 format.

But Tubber clubman O'Connor, who hopes to return from injury next month, wants Clare to focus instead on improving their performances in the competition.

The Banner County haven't won the Munster title since 1998 and since contesting their last final in 2008, they've won just one of nine matches in the province, against Waterford in 2013.

Clare lost to Cork in the Munster semi-final four years ago but famously regrouped to win the All-Ireland title.

They've struggled since then, however, and O'Connor reflected: "When people talk about 2013, it feels like a lifetime ago. So much has gone in between and we really feel we haven't performed.

"Regardless of accolades or what you win, that's the most disappointing thing.

"The phrase 'come back with your sword, or on it' is applicable.

"If you're beaten by the better team on the day, fair enough, but if you play to your potential, there's a lot of honour in that.

"As a group, we don't feel we've done ourselves justice in big games, particularly in the Munster Championship.

"It irks the group, our record. I've only won one Munster Championship game and I'm seven years at it. It really is a big itch we need to scratch.

"Whatever about myself, when you have people of the calibre of Tony Kelly, Conor McGrath and these guys, and they haven't reached a Munster final, we have a lot of unfinished business."

He added: "From my own personal point of view, having grown up watching Clare teams sell out big stadiums and cauldrons in the Munster Championship matches, I still haven't experienced that and it would be a regret I'd have when I hang up my boots if I didn't experience it.

"We have Limerick first up and that was the number one goal written down when we met this year.

"For the immediate future, that's where my head would be at as regards the Munster Championship. There would be so much regret there if it was abolished now."

O'Connor, a refreshingly honest character who works with Clare Energy in Shannon, underwent surgery on a shoulder injury last December. Having suffered the effects of wear and tear from previous minor problems, he was left with no alternative but to go under the knife at Santry's sports surgery clinic.

But with the summer looming, and no league hurling under his belt, versatile defender O'Connor, who has also operated at midfield in the past, is anxious to stake a claim sooner rather than later.

tough He said: "I've never had to deal with any real injuries. To be out of the team watching guys playing very well and putting their cases forward is very tough.

"You can feel like you're the forgotten man on match-days. You don't tog and I tend to get out of the dressing room to be honest. You'd feel like a spare part, with nothing really to offer.

"At the start, I was conscious of getting into the dressing room but lads are so in the zone and what you offer to them is meaningless, really."

Next Sunday, Clare welcome Waterford to Cusack Park for a crucial Allianz League Division 1A clash - with a quarter-final spot on offer for the winners.

But O'Connor is also cognisant of Wexford's progress under former manager Davy Fitzgerald, who he believes is "rejuvenated" in his new role.

O'Connor said: "It's hard to express the opinion of the group but Fitzy would often express to us, as a group, how much the Clare job weighed on him.

"You see results going wrong and he took it personally and got stick from the public then.

"One thing we've all seen since he moved to Wexford, you can almost see him enjoying it a bit more, rejuvenated. We're delighted to see that.

"I haven't been speaking to him but seeing him on TV, he seems a little lighter, a little bit more rejuvenated from that point of view."

Irish Independent

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