The hurler with the boyband looks, Shane O’Donnell was Clare’s hero against Cork
Davy Fitzgerald only told him he was playing two hours before the game to spare his nerves
Clare’s Shane O’Donnell scores his third goal despite the attention of Cork’s Brian Murphy. Photo:Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Shane O’Donnell savours the celebrations following Clare’s victory over Cork in Saturday’s dramatic All-Ireland senior hurling final replay. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
As soon as you see Shane O’Donnell taking off his helmet, you only hope Louis Walsh isn’t passing a television. Just gone 19, his boyband credentials are so watertight that it’s a wonder the Clare bench didn’t have a tall stool for him to rise from all summer.
He walks through every door fringe first, with cheekbones high and a smile to make teenage girls bite on their necklaces. We don’t know if he can sing yet but then when has that ever mattered?
We know he can hurl though. His 3-3 in this All Ireland final replay came from just nine touches of the ball. O’Donnell is a second year student of genetics in UCC but his display on Saturday night was a lesson in economy.
Of course, he wasn’t even supposed to be playing. His last start for Clare was in the qualifier against Wexford in mid-July, the night they needed extra-time to get past Liam Dunne’s side and after which they were airily dismissed as a project for the long finger.
Ever since, he’d been a fitful presence, never threatening Darach Honan’s place at the prow of the Clare attack and often seeing Cathal McInerney sent into the fray ahead of him when Davy Fitz looked to freshen things up. But shortly before three o’clock on Saturday as they were finishing up their pre-match meal, the manager pulled him to one side.
“I was ringing him over the last couple of days,” said Fitzgerald, “and saying, ‘You’re probably going to come on.’ I just wanted to keep it from him. Now, I’d say probably everybody else in the county knew but he didn’t.”
Fitzgerald’s reasoning was simple. O’Donnell had been on fire in training since the drawn game and carried a goal threat that had been absent from Clare’s armoury all summer.
But his tendency to suffer attacks of the jitters called for him knowing as close to the game as possible. “I was talking to him getting off the bus,” laughed Tony Kelly. “Sure he was nearly getting sick!
“Well that’s not true,” said O’Donnell. “But I do get very nervous before matches. In hindsight it made it easier because I slept great last night. I woke up this morning going, ‘I can’t wait for my chance to get on’. And then I was told close enough to the game so I wasn’t too nervous. I didn’t have time to get tight about it. I was just excited to get out. So yeah, it worked brilliantly.”
And what were the instructions?
“He just said, ‘Do what you always do.’ And that’s to go for goals. Sometimes it doesn’t work out but today they did. I’m not good at scoring points so I had already decided that I was going to go for a goal any chance I had. I kind of have it my head that I’ll go for goal if I can and sure if I get taken down, the free-taker will have his chance to score. Every score on the board is one for Clare.”
His first half was the stuff of song and poem. Already with 3-2 to his name for his limited appearances in the championship so far, he had another 3-1 on the board inside the opening 19 minutes. It made him the first man to score an All Ireland final hat-trick inside a single half since Donie Nealon in 1964.
And yet, Shane O’Neill will find little enough in the tape for which to reproach himself. O’Donnell got out in front to grab the first ball and whip a point in the second minute but it was the last 50-50 that the Clare man won for close on half an hour.