Despite soldiering for Clare through the bad times, Patrick Donnellan insists he carries no baggage
Clare’s sweeper was marked out as a future star by Brian Cody as far back as 2008
Clare’s Patrick Donnellan will a vital part of their team plan on Sunday. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
They call him Paddy down home. When he walked into the lobby of the Clare press night a couple of weeks back, Patrick Donnellan was in full Patrick mode – smartly dressed as he’d just come from his job as a sales manager with aviation company Eirtech, all square-jawed poise in his role as Clare captain and spokesman.
But back in O’Callaghan’s Mill’s, it’s a long time since he was Patrick. The last man to call him that might have been the bishop at his confirmation. “He was Patrick as a young underage player,” says Joe Cooney, long-time club grandee. “But nobody would really call him that. Or Pat either.”
Lift Liam MacCarthy tomorrow and he won’t mind if they call him Tallulah. Everything is nothing outside of the game now. Donnellan swears he doesn’t even have a speech ready if the best comes to the best.
Concentrated on game
“No, I haven’t and I’m not just saying it now – as in I’m at home writing the speech and I’m lying to ye when I come in here! I would never think about those kinds of things. People would be asking you about the different things that come around with an All-Ireland final and it just doesn’t come into your head.
“I know it is all for nothing if we don’t win the next day. We know that we don’t want to be in that position and we’ll look after the things that will help us to play well. That’s all that matters for us. If I’m going up the steps I’m sure I’ll be able to think of a few words. Nobody will worry about what I’m saying anyway.”
In the jagged-peak stage map of Donnellan’s Clare career, Cork have always been a hors catégorie climb; played them three times, lost all three. He made his debut against them, coming off the bench late on in a Munster semi-final back in 2006. Davy Fitz was still the Clare goalkeeper and the defence still had both Lohans and Seánie Mac in situ.
Donnellan was a couple of weeks short of his 21st birthday and could only feel his way into the new world. Cork had six points to spare at the end, All-Ireland champions waggling the stick in search of an early-summer gear.
Two years later, he made his first championship start against Waterford and by then he was ready. Mike McNamara was over Clare at the time and from the day he gave him his first start, Donnellan was a fixture. Clare have played 20 championship games in six seasons since then and Donnellan is the only ever-present on the team sheet.
“We played Cork in an All-Ireland quarter-final that year and we were just beaten in the end,” says McNamara. “That was the last kick in that Cork team and we just didn’t put them away. But I remember Brian Cody coming up to me afterwards and saying that young Donnellan was the best player we had. He said he stood out a mile.”
It was only Donnellan’s fifth game for Clare. It was also the closest they came to hurling in August until this summer. For the next four seasons, Clare couldn’t buy a win of any substance. Donnellan was there for it all, watching on as players retired and managers got bogged down in acrimony. The one hope through the darkness was the wave of underage success that was threatening to break on to the shore.