*Daithi O’Connell. Photograph: Burren Eye Photography
In his own words Wolfe Tones clubman Daithi O’Connell tries “to marry what I do for a living into sport, it interests me”.
The former Clare forward played club hurling alongside current Clare manager Brian Lohan. “I work as a continuous improvement engineer and Brian asked me to come on board as part of the stats team”, explained Daithi who continues to be a key member of the Wolfe Tones senior squad this season.
“There are six in our team and some do phenomenal work after matches. We meet on a Thursday night and I attend games. We do pre game, in game and end game analysis, analysis on the opposition and on ourselves prior to games. There is a good automated system while the game is going on and messages are passed down to the lads” explained the Shannon man who was part of the Clare panel from November 2002 until Clare were beaten by Limerick in the championship in 2007.
“I don’t know if this type of analysis was done when I was playing” added Daithi who has been part of Brian Lohan’s stats team since shortly after the All Star full back was appointed as the Clare manager. O’Connell’s role does not require him to be present for all training sessions only matches.
He felt that improvement has visible in Clare’s displays “after a shaky enough start”. “The win over Kilkenny was a huge boost. A team wants to be going into the first round of the championship with confidence and the win over Kilkenny has certainly provided that”.
Although injuries have ruled out Aaron Fitzgerald and Patrick O’Connor, Daithi was of the view a depth in the panel has become apparent during the League. “There are such good players in the squad that they can slot in and out. The substitutes introduced against Kilkenny changed the game”.
While he admits that “it’s hard to see past Limerick for the All-Ireland but they did show one or two small weaknesses during the league, he believes that teams “are coming stronger and starting to understand how to beat Limerick.
“It has the makings of a fascinating championship. Strength, size and fitness have come to another level. In the last twenty five years there have been four step changes to the way the game is played. In Ger Loughnane and Mike Mac’s era it was all about fitness and the fitter you were the better. Tipp focussed on speed and Cork came with the short hurling style and the strength and conditioning side of that. All are merged together now and you have extremely fit, fast and skillful men making it so competitive. Ball retention is massive now in the game and players don’t want to be giving away possession”.
While he accepts that Limerick have the favourites tag for the 2021 championship he said “Cork Waterford and Galway are playing well while Tipp and Kilkenny can’t be written off and more so when nobody is talking about them, it will be a fascinating championship”.
Asked about the ever increasing size of backroom teams at both club and county he said “club has always tried to copy inter county. Clubs can only provide so much in terms of backroom, it’s not as elite as the county game. You need all those people now as it’s so elite. You need people to lend a hand as things need to be done quicker. We want players to be fully concentrated on performing out in the field. That’s why teams have expanded so much. Clubs haven’t the resources to do that”.
Number crunching aside, Daithi is confident Clare are coming good at the right time. “Tony (Kelly) is a match winner on his day and its nearly all the time. Against Kilkenny Tony was not at his best and Shane O’Donnell was out and we did well. Waterford are probably looking to kick on from last year but, hopefully, Clare will stop them. Clare coming right at the right time and the confidence from beating Kilkenny is huge”.