Twelve months ago, Shane O’Donnell had a very different task ahead of him.
The Éire Óg sharpshooter was facing into the second half of a Harvard scholarship. This year, his January will be slightly different. O’Donnell says he relished the life opportunity going to Harvard afforded him, but this year he says he’s relishing the chance to have a full season back with the Clare hurlers.
“It has been a brilliant couple of months so far and I have really enjoyed the preseason, which was obviously quite different from a personal point of view to last year. Once you move closer to the league, people get to put the torture and horror of preseason behind them,” Shane joked.
“Last year was a great experience for me, but from a hurling point of view it wasn’t the ideal preparation for championship. I missed out on all the preseason and the league, and I can already feel myself being more confident for having done it this year,” he insisted.
The national league has an unusual slant to the two groups as Clare face an all-Leinster cast of Carlow, Wexford, Laois, Kilkenny and Dublin. While there are varied opinions of the perceived advantage or disadvantages to this, O’Donnell says he would prefer to meet some Munster championship opponents in February and March.
“It is definitely different as there are teams that you wouldn’t get to play otherwise, but I’m really looking forward to it. You’re never going to turn your nose up at the opportunity to play any team, no matter who they are. Every game is a big game. I relish each challenge that comes my way.
“Personally, I like playing against the players that I’ll be playing in championship. I think it’s down to me being a corner-forward. I like knowing how the person I’m going to mark likes to play. I like building up confidence from having previously marked that player. Other people might look at it differently, but that’s my take,” O’Donnell said.
2020 brings with a fresh start for Clare under a new manager and backroom team and while the squad is likely to be very similar, O’Donnell says you are likely to see a different stamp on the Clare team this year. A more direct style of play appears to be what Lohan and coach Seán Treacy, as well as the rest of the backroom team appear to be favouring.
“It is definitely different [setup under Brian Lohan]. This is the third management team I’ve played under and the jump from the first to the second was quite different too. I think everyone is enjoying it, though. Results are ultimately what matters so we will just have to wait and see.
“We would have actually being trying to be direct the last few years, but you can complicate things in between at times, and if you do that – you end up not achieving your goal on the pitch. But yeah, that is our goal this year.
“There are no ways to butter it up – last year was a massive disappointment and losing two games in that manner is just unacceptable. It was the first time I’ve came off the pitch and really been on the end of a bad beating, and it is definitely something I don’t want to repeat. You won’t hear any good words about those two games from anyone in this panel. We’re putting our heads down to make sure that doesn’t happen ever again,” O’Donnell confessed.
While the national league’s lustre has apparently dimmed in the last two years due to the structure of the provincial hurling championships, O’Donnell says these five games are crucial for not only starting the year off in a positive vein, but also carrying confidence and belief into the summer.
“Everyone says that the league is where you want to find a few players but by the end of the league it is the results that people are looking at. Okay, you might want to try out a few new things in the first few games but by the third or fourth games you still need to have games won and are hopefully progressing into the latter ends of the competition. I know some people don’t really rate the league but it’s still all momentum and building confidence and we want to win all those games.
“Last year we didn’t go to Walsh Park in the league with the intention of being beaten badly but also, we took a lot of points from that defeat and gained a lot from it. It definitely helped our preparation for the championship. It’s different this year due to the all-Leinster group so it won’t be the same, but you can also take confidence if a certain approach or tactic appears to yield dividends. It will be more generalised gains you will be getting from the league this year but there is still a lot to be gained,” O’Donnell concluded.