Friday 18 January 2019

Hurling hero Shane O’Donnell: ‘My mother is my agent’

Banner final hero Shane O'Donnell is being bombarded with requests – but he's finally learning to say no

Clare's Shane O'Donnell was back in Croke Park yesterday to collect his Opel Player of the Month Award for September
Clare's Shane O'Donnell was back in Croke Park yesterday to collect his Opel Player of the Month Award for September
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

THE phone keeps hopping in Shane O'Donnell's house and, these days, the Clare star lets his mother, Mary, answer it.

There has been no return to normality yet for O'Donnell, no slowing in the slew of requests for hurling's newest hero. All of Clare's young tyros have seen their profile sky-rocket.

Domhnall O'Donovan, who scored the equalising point in the drawn All-Ireland final, received a letter in the post that was simply addressed to the 'Clare corner-back, Clonlara'.

But O'Donnell has earned a level of exposure probably not bestowed on a young GAA star since Jason Sherlock, and you wonder how the 19-year-old will cope with it all. A game that offers a certain level of anonymity through helmets, now has a star who has attracted attention from far beyond the GAA and into the world of celebrity, boybands and bookmaking firms.

There has been the more mundane request for a team talk to a group of U-16s – O'Donnell is only three years older than most of them.

You can also have a bet on Miley Cyrus showing up in Ennis as his new girlfriend (though she hasn't been in touch), and his revelation that he can't sing a note is unlikely to deter Louis Walsh too much. There was a date with a personal shopper too, but it seems he can see all that for what it is.

"It's been very weird. It's not something you'd ever associate with hurling at all. It's so far removed from being out on the pitch. You just don't think about it, until you're in the middle of it. But I wouldn't read too much into it. It's just some people looking for publicity more than anything," he says.

O'Donnell is in Dublin to collect his Opel Player of the Month Award for September along with Colm Cooper. It's one of a series of engagements that he has undertaken in the last few weeks. He's a second-year genetics student in UCC, but college has taken a back seat since his All-Ireland final heroics.

"I haven't returned to normality unfortunately yet. It's been all up in the air, it's been very hectic. Every day someone is ringing you saying 'do you want to do this or that?'. You'd have three or four things on every day, it's just different from what I'm used to," he says.

Davy Fitzgerald has been on the phone frequently, checking in on his young star. His mother, he jokes, acts as his agent. She is much more comfortable about saying 'no' to requests than he is, though after an exhausting couple of weeks, he's learning.

"(Davy's) been very good to me, he's been on to me every second day, to make sure I'm alright, and to see that I'm dealing with the situation alright. He'll give me advice on X and Y," he says.

"My mother is acting as a stand-in agent at the moment. She'd have no problem telling people 'he has no interest in doing this or that' because when people ask me I'd always say yes. I'm finally learning to say no after two weeks of requests. I'm trying to get back into college work, trying to get back into a routine where you know what's coming from one week to the next."

He has had a couple of games back with the club. There has been no special attention, no softening up. Asked whether he'll be a marked man next year, his answer is simple. It's difficult, he points out, to single out someone when they are sitting on the bench.

"As it stands, I probably won't be starting next year – so I mightn't be on the pitch to be a marked man," he says.

He was mobbed at the Goal Challenge in Sixmilebridge, needing a Garda escort to the team bus. 'The Late Late Show' appearance made him as nervous as anything on the hurling field.

When asked about the U-21 Team of the Year which he was omitted from, he shrugs and insists he didn't deserve it. Not everyone would agree, but a strong strain of realism runs through him and you sense he's going to be alright.

"I'd say if you embraced it too much, you might get more involved with the media than your hurling," he says. "That could affect you next year. You can have your few weeks of it, but you really have to remember why you're in it. Hurling is coming around soon enough again."

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