Hurling ourselves at Shane O’Donnell
Within 19 frenzied minutes, a 19-year-old Clare hurler’s life changed forever as sportsman became showbiz star
The Clare champion: ‘Hurling is very rewarding if you’re on form,’ says Shane O’Donnell. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
They love Shane: Clare supporters welcome O’Donnell and the rest of the team home to Ennis last Sunday. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Golden moments: Clare supporters crowd around Shane O’Donnell after a charity game on Wednesday. Photograph: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
It is about 10.30pm on Wednesday, and Shane O’Donnell is being interviewed in a windowless storeroom of a pub while sudden fame roars outside the door.
“I just can’t make the connection yet. It seems a bit surreal. It’s [as if] I’ve been thrown into a different person’s life,” he says. “And it’s all based on 15 minutes of a game. A game of 70 minutes and your life changes completely, forever.”
He is eating his dinner very slowly, patiently, in the storeroom of the pub. His glamour seems out of place here; it is like watching a lion in a cupboard. His parents, Martin and Mary, are outside. The Clare hurling manager, Davy Fitzgerald, comes in to see if he is all right. His team-mate Podge Collins does the same. And suddenly you see what this is. It is show business.
Earlier in the evening, gardaí had to rescue O’Donnell from a crowd of fans. Twice. Then he and the rest of the victorious Clare team got a Garda escort from the charity match they had just played, in Six-Mile-Bridge, to Fitzgerald’s mother’s pub, the Bellsfort Inn, outside Newmarket-on-Fergus. Mrs Fitz was behind the bar. (Davy’s father, Pat, is the secretary of the Clare County Board, the body that runs hurling and football in the county.)
The gardaí spill into the pub, bubbling like schoolgirls. Next thing you know, the sports commentator Marty Morrissey arrives. That’s how big this is. Born in Cork, Morrissey grew up in Clare. West Clare. Where they do not hurl.
We are in east Clare, where they do hurl. It is said that hurling can take only on good land, where you have the grass for it. To hear O’Donnell talk about the pitch at Croke Park makes you think about the grind of playing sport in this muddy country. The pitch at Croke Park, enthuses O’Donnell, “is beautiful. Every blade of grass is where it should be.”
And, Clare fans would surely say, O’Donnell was where he should be, at 19 the youngest on a very young team, belting in three goals for Clare inside 20 minutes. He ended up scoring three goals and three points on the day, and O’Donnell isn’t that bothered with scoring points. He’s not that pushed about points, in the scheme of things.
But last Saturday he became a local hero – or, as the Clare People newspaper had it, he went from lad to legend – and his good looks have suddenly made him the centre of something like Beatlemania.
In a country that has always been awkward about male beauty, there are no guidelines for what O’Donnell should do now. He has his father’s long Clare face and his mother’s golden colouring. His nose looks broken, but he denies this. “It’s just big.” He has a scar on his lip from where a cleft palate was repaired when he was a baby. “It was a very good repair.” He looks like a runner. “I’m 12 and a half stone, which is a lot for someone who is 5ft 10.”