While the county’s fingers and toes were crossed in anticipation of Shane O’Donnell getting back in time for the Munster Championship, behind the scenes the marquee Éire Óg forward was actually contemplating not being able to return at all.
Not dissimilar to Clare ladies football captain Laurie Ryan’s prolonged absence a few years back, a concussion injury sustained at training in June 2021 further demonstrated just how debilitating the condition can be.
As a result, O’Donnell’s first taste of championship action in 17 months against Tipperary last month was much more triumphant than just long-awaited return to the fold.
“It was tough to come back into it to be honest.” Admitted the 2013 All-Ireland winner in front of the dug-outs in Cusack Park on Sunday.
“I definitely had a long few months thinking whether I would be back on the pitch at all and it was a major milestone getting back on the pitch, togging out with Clare again.”
“It was in early March when I actually pulled the trigger and said I was going back into it. I was waiting to get a sign off from the specialist I had been seeing over the last year. I said I was going back to him to do another full and thorough assessment and if he gives me the all clear I will go back and if he has any doubts, that’s it, I am not going to go back.
“So I kind of put it in his hands and he basically said I was one hundred per cent and he left it up to me and put it back in my court. So I just decided that I’d go back and when you’re kind of anxious about something, exposure is the main treatment so getting back on the pitch was definitely the right decision.”
The rest is history as O’Donnell’s return along with Peter Duggan have revitalised Clare’s attacking potency and options to down Tipperary, Cork and Waterford along with drawing even with All-Ireland champions Limerick.
But for O’Donnell himself, while clearly revelling in the Munster adventure, Clare’s form is just the icing on the cake.
“It has been brilliant. The second I got back on the pitch I knew I had made the right decision. I have rolled a few challenges over the past few weeks, today again and I have kind of got over that psychological challenge of thinking that every time I get a clip on my head I am going to step back to where I was last year. So I think I can safely say now that it’s behind me.
“Obviously when things are going well you’re winning games, it’s brilliant and it’s brilliant to be out there. But playing my first game against Tipp, just togging out and going on the pitch, that was my biggest achievement and that would have been enough this year.
“Everything since then has been bonus territory for me personally but obviously I am thrilled that we’re winning games and I’m delighted to be in the Munster Final.”
With momentum behind them on the pitch and the stands, O’Donnell is fully appreciative of the wave of support as they home in on their greatest challenge of trying to take down the reigning Munster and All-Ireland Champions in Thurles on the first Sunday in June.
“I think everyone is feeling it [the buzz]. There is a good mix of young and old in the panel and the vibe inside the panel is brilliant. When you work hard, the crowd appreciate that on top of everything else and obviously when you get a couple of good wins under your belt, people want to come and see.
“We are delighted with the crowd, it’s been brilliant especially the last day and today again so it’s always brilliant coming to Cusack Park on a day like today and hopefully again in Thurles the net day.
“It’s a big game and hopefully it will be third time lucky for us. All we can do is focus on ourselves, we’ve two weeks to prepare now and we’re going to give it everything we can.”