Thursday 22 March 2018

'Everyone has bad games sooner or later. I am almost looking forward to it'

Shane O'Donnell tells Colm Keys how he's handling the pressures of fame, why he's braced for a backlash and what he'll do when the hysteria dies down

Hurling hero Shane O'Donnell swaps a sliotar for science as he helps launch Science Forward in Trinity College Dublin with Adam McGrath (11)
Hurling hero Shane O'Donnell swaps a sliotar for science as he helps launch Science Forward in Trinity College Dublin with Adam McGrath (11)
Clare's Shane O'Donnell
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The 16-year-old sat on a chair in the living room of a house on the outskirts of Ennis enthralled by what was unfolding.

Never at ease watching games on television at the best of times, the 2010 All-Ireland hurling final gave him something different, however, stopping him from pacing the floor or even leaving the room as he was accustomed to doing in such circumstances.

Lar Corbett had drawn him in that afternoon as much as the sight of black and amber shirts collectively heaving for breath against the ropes, the hand of history lifting slowly from their shoulders.

As Lar flashed his third goal past a hapless PJ Ryan, the young man remembers reaching for superlatives at such a feat. Three goals in an All-Ireland final.

"That's amazing," he thought. "The greatest thing you could do in hurling."

Three years and a few weeks later, Shane O'Donnell is inevitably drawn back to that afternoon when one man took a wrecking ball to history.


"I would be an awful man for watching matches, I enjoy them but I get frustrated. I can't sit still, I'd be walking around. I'd end up walking out of the room. I'd never sit down to watch a full match," he explains. "But one of the ones that I watched fully was that 2010 final. It was just enthralling, an amazing final."

How he looked in awe that day seems so relevant now, but he still hasn't managed to make the connection with what Lar did and what he repeated in the dying light of the last Saturday in September.

Until he makes that connection properly he knows it won't have sunk in. Where does a 19-year-old try to start comprehending the turn his life has taken?

What he does know is the capacity for it to go full circle. Some time in the future he is certain he will come back down to earth with a bump. Corbett is already, in some ways, the test case for such an orbit, and in a strange way Shane O'Donnell is looking forward to the landing.

"Hopefully I will be mentally set up when something goes wrong on the pitch that I'm not just caught by it," he says. "I am almost looking forward to it because I know what's going to happen and I'm just going to get it out of the way. I'm not going to be too bothered by it.

"Everyone has bad games sooner or later. I'm almost waiting for it to happen."

He says a chat last week with one of his U-21 managers, Donal Moloney, who works in Cork where he himself is in college, was helpful.

"I'm there in college during the week and he was keen enough to meet up with me," he says.

"So we met casually and it really helped a lot, just to get things off the chest. Nothing negative really, just to talk about it, get advice on how I could manage what is happening at the moment – what it's going to be like when I go and play a big game and play awful. I'm going to be cut down in the media."

Davy Fitzgerald has called regularly too, the shepherd's watchful eye always on alert.

But for now he's willing to embrace what he calls "the package", the territory of a 19-year-old blessed with boyish charm and good looks scoring three goals in an All-Ireland hurling final.

O'Donnell knows he can't close his door to it and that there are aspects of it that required a blind eye.

"It commands a lot of attention, nothing else. Just the manner in which we won it, even more so," he says. "On top of that the media have blown my persona out of any proportion. I'm up there for a lot of attention from loads of different angles."

At the last count he has heard of three new-born baby boys that have been named in his honour.

"It's so strange," he says, shrugging his shoulders.

One publican phoned and asked for his presence on the night that the Liam MacCarthy Cup was heading to his premises. His brief was to chat to customers from 10.30 onwards! He politely refused.

"He wanted me to stay out there and talk to people basically for a few hours through the night while they were drinking their pints. Why would I do that?" he asks.

But the pace of that first week has eased somewhat. Louis Walsh didn't call, neither did a modelling agency that threatened to sign him up, while the hysteria of Sixmilebridge and the GOAL challenge hasn't been repeated.

That was "uncomfortable", he acknowledges, something he didn't enjoy as the crowd around him swelled, forcing guards to usher him to the sanctuary of a dressing-room.

"At the same time it has probably been blown out of proportion. There was a lot of people at that game so everyone had a big enough crowd about them. I just got singled out for a bit more," he says.

The phone has been busy though and life is, he accepts, much "different."

"I had 19 years one way and then I have three and a half weeks of something completely different," he says. "I don't really know how to explain it, when you are walking down the street people will be looking at you and they walk past you and you hear your name. It's been strange.

"People are asking me to do team talks for every team under the sun across the country. If I said 'yes' to all of them I'd be doing three things a day every day since."

Procuring an agent, even on a temporary basis, has been "a step too far" for him, however. Deep down he knows such status is transient, so calls have been filtered by his mother instead.

"I made half a comment about my mother being a stand-in agent and that was plastered all over half the titles. She takes some of the calls, and people who get my number, I deal with myself. I'd be nearly tempted to get a second phone," he says. "I'm hoping it will only last another few weeks so it (an agent) would be unnecessary."

College in UCC, where he is studying second year genetics, has been difficult to reapply himself to. For the first week he didn't touch base in Cork at all. In time when he reflects on that momentous day, he may see his achievement in staying relevant in the game after his third goal as being as significant as those first 19 minutes.


It was something he was almost instantly conscious of as the net bulged for the third time.

"Anthony Nash came out and clipped my leg as he was trying to save it and I fell. I had a moment when I was looking at the ground and I realised that I had scored a third goal," he recalls.

"I had 10 seconds on the pitch where I thought 'what is going on here?'. The rest of the time I was conscious of the fact that I didn't want to just have a good start and not feature at all for the rest of the game. So I was determined to build on what I started."

Midway through the second half he was forced off briefly for treatment to a cut on his leg sustained after hitting the synthetic surface on the pitch perimeter. In the 60 seconds he was off, he had a brief conversation with Fitzgerald.

"You have to score," encouraged Fitzgerald. "You have to score."

Clare had not raised a flag in 16 minutes and O'Donnell's antennae were raised once more.

"I went back on and the next ball that was hit into me (by Tony Kelly) I got the point," he says.

"It helped a lot with the whole situation. I got another one then just before I came off. It was the only one that I celebrated after because I felt that it might be my last."

It capped a remarkable few hours that began with a tap on the shoulder from Fitzgerald as they dined together for a pre-match meal earlier in the afternoon, informing him that he was in the team for Darach Honan.

Whatever was left on the plate when he returned to the table was left there. Others saw it coming but he hadn't, despite burning up the ground at training and for the U-21s.

"Before the Wednesday (when the team was announced) I thought I might get the nod and a couple of lads thought I might get it. I knew it would be 50/50 because Darach is a fantastic player. Then on Wednesday when the team was named I was disappointed. I said to myself 'I'll get my time' and Davy rang me a couple of times and said 'you'll get your chance, be ready.' Then I got a tap on the shoulder. We were getting food. I struggled with it. I was in a daze."

He was happy to get back out with his club for the following two weekends but equally is enjoying the break since their interest ended, signing off on a year when he made his Clare debut, started his first championship game and won All-Ireland senior and U-21 medals.

Some day soon the connection with Corbett and 2010 will come and he'll see things with even greater clarity.

Already he's bracing himself for the inevitable bumps ahead.

"I have great close friends and family. They are the people who will be there when you play a brutal game or do something stupid and you get a slating," he says. "They will always be there but the people who want to be your friend now won't. This won't always last."

Hurling hero Shane O'Donnell swapped a sliotar for science as he last week launched Science Forward in Trinity College Dublin. Science Forward, developed by Bord Gáis Networks in partnership with Junior Achievement Ireland, is aimed at giving over 2,000 sixth class pupils across Ireland a real sense of what science has to offer and a look at the opportunities that lie in the sector. For details see ScienceForward

Irish Independent

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