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
The goals were a pickpocket’s work. Twice O’Neill was betrayed by the porosity of the defence in front of him and could do little more than split the difference between the onrushing man and O’Donnell peeling away to his left.
Pat Donnellan found him for the first, Conor McGrath laid off the second. “Both of them were put on a plate for me. I had to do nothing except take two steps with the ball and put it in the far corner.”
In general play, O’Neill probably had his measure. Three times in that opening spell, the Cork full-back bested him as they duelled for ball. While the rest of the Cork defence looked nervous and hesitant, O’Neill took responsibility and invariably came out with possession.
Critically though, it led him to chase one ball too many and when he went to sweep in behind William Egan on 19 minutes he left a gaping hole in front of Anthony Nash. O’Donnell was onto the loose ball in a trice and his improvised bat down past the Cork goalkeeper was his best finish of the day.
“If I had a dream last night that I was going to score 3-3, I’d have woken up saying, ‘That’s ridiculous.’ I’d have been happy with one, like. But it really is the stuff of dreams, from back when you were six and you pick up a hurley.
“It’s unbelievable. You can’t describe it. You literally dream of that from when you’re a kid. And going up to the Hill after scoring a goal, there’s always a delay between when it hits the net and when they roar. It’s absolutely amazing.”
It might be stretching matters to say his most crucial score came in the second half but Clare were creeping close to desperation by the time it came in the 54th minute. They had scored just one point in 26 minutes and had seen their eight-point lead wiped out.
Davy was coursing the referee, Colin Ryan had seen a free come back off the post, Colm Galvin had spilled a wide and dropped a shot into Nash’s chest. Shane O’Neill hadn’t been beaten to a single ball since half-time. The sides were level and the next score was going to be important.
Out came O’Donnell to snatch up a diagonal ball from Tony Kelly. Though O’Neill stuck to him, he managed to brush the Cork full-back off and cause him to lose his footing. Though space had now opened up in front of him, he took his point to put Clare ahead.
“I hadn’t got much of the ball for a while and the ball broke to me. I was actually thinking of going for a goal but because I hadn’t been in the game much for a while I said I’d tap it over the bar and keep the scoreboard ticking over.”
When he stuck his final score five minutes from the end, Fitzgerald decided that a five-point lead was enough latitude and called him ashore. No Clare supporter sat as he trotted off, a standing ovation that horseshoed the stadium and drowned him in adoration.
The One Direction lads wouldn’t know the half of it.