Clare have potential to win far more than one All-Ireland – O'Connor
NOW that the gems have been unearthed and polished, Clare's next challenge is to see them realise their full value – and former Banner hero Jamesie O'Connor believes the current squad will be in the shake-up for All-Ireland titles for years to come.
The Banner are still four weeks away from the start of their defence of Liam MacCarthy but O'Connor sees big things ahead. For one, he insists the current crop have the potential to outstrip the achievements of his own side who won All-Irelands in 1995 and 1997.
He insists the ambition in the side means there'll be no lack of appetite this year. For a team raised on success, it won't have gone unnoticed that last year's All-Ireland title didn't see them scalp Kilkenny or Tipperary along the way.
In '97, Clare beat all of hurling's 'Big Three' – including Tipperary twice – on their way to the All-Ireland, something that made the success all the sweeter for O'Connor.
"You look at the age profile, we were very young in '95," O'Connor said. "I was 23, Brian Lohan 24, but Seanie McMahon, Frank Lohan and all those guys were younger than us. They were U-21 at the time so the age profile in a way is similar.
"If anything, the current Clare side are younger so they know that potentially there's an opportunity for them to be really competitive over the next few years.
"They're an ambitious bunch of young men. The hope would be in Clare that they'll kick on now and they don't settle for one (All-Ireland). I don't think that they will and winning one, in a way, takes the pressure off.
"Certainly for me, as a player, the second one was sweeter than the first because it franked it that luck wasn't an issue. They didn't beat Kilkenny and Tipperary along the way last year.
"That's something that they'd be saying as well – 'Maybe we'll have to do that this summer or next year to be franked as a seriously good team' – and good teams or great teams obviously win a second if not more."
Clare will find out this weekend whether they'll face Cork or Waterford on June 15. O'Connor expects Cork to emerge on top, but believes that Jimmy Barry-Murphy's side have some key positions to fill if they are to go one better than last year's All-Ireland final appearance.
"With the injuries (Waterford) have had and the league finishing like it did, you would say Cork are in a better place going into the championship. But that's often not the way the championship goes and Waterford won't fear Cork.
"I think Cork have question marks at three and six. Shane O'Neill did a great job last year but he's not a full-back.
"If you are a Cork supporter you'd like to see them nailed down and I don't think they have addressed those issues.
"Aidan Walsh is a factor too. The word on the street is he and Paudie O'Sullivan expect to start. Cork are favourites but it's the Munster championship and there are no foregone conclusions."
O'Connor described Clare's league campaign as "largely positive" where he reckons defensive duo Paul Flanagan and Jack Brown are the most likely to force their way into the championship team.
Shane O'Donnell's hamstring injury means he's likely to miss the opening round but O'Connor believes there's unlikely to be too many changes from last year's side.
"Places are up for grabs and there is a surplus of forward talent that we didn't have in my era. If anything, if a couple of key defenders went down, you could say we don't have the same cover in the backs. So it was important in the league that he got to look at Jack Brown and Paul Flanagan.
"I still don't think there will be a whole pile of change from last year. I would say 12 or 13 positions are cemented down and you might just see one or two new faces coming through."
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