*John Conlon. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill
JOHN CONLON has admitted he could never have envisaged winning an All Star in defence.
Second All Star awards were claimed by both John and Shane O’Donnell in the past fortnight. Conlon was named at centre back on the PwC hurling All Star team of 2023 with O’Donnell at wing forward.
Both men had fine seasons in saffron and blue with Clonlara’s John capping off the season winning his second ever Clare SHC with his club. He previously won an All Star in 2018. At number six, he was rock solid in the heart of the Banner defence but complimented this with excellent supply of ball into the Clare attack.
For the second year in a row, Éire Óg’s O’Donnell makes the All Star team. His selfless and industrious display coupled with proving to be a headache for most defences saw him named in the fifteen.
Limerick’s four in a row success sees them dominate the All Stars with seven of the fifteen. Kilkenny have five representatives with the Clare duo and Conor Whelan completing the line up.
Quilty’s Marty Morrissey was one of the PwC Hurling All-Star 2023 selectors alongside Colm Keys (Irish Independent), Seán Moran (Irish Times), John Fogarty (Irish Examiner), Pat Nolan (Irish Mirror), Damian Lawlor (RTÉ), MacDara MacDonncha (TG4), Philip Lannigan (Irish Daily Mail), John Harrington (gaa.ie), Joanne Cantwell (RTÉ), Gráinne McElwaine (GAAGO), Fintan O’Toole (the42.ie).
Clonlara’s Conlon became the fourth Clare man to win an All Star at centre back following in the footsteps of Newmarket-on-Fergus’ Jim ‘Puddin’ Cullinan, Sixmilebridge’s Sean Stack and two-time All-Ireland winner of St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield Seanie McMahon.
He joins an elite group of Offaly’s Brian Whelahan, Brian Corcoran of Cork, Kilkenny’s Tommy Walsh and four-time All-Ireland winner of Limerick, Kyle Hayes as hurlers to have won All Stars in defence and attack.
Occasions like the All Stars are “great nights,” Conlon admitted. “All year you are going up in competition against all these lads and then to come to these nights it is really good to meet other sporting players, engage with them and build up friendships off the field which is a big thing”.
Of his second All Star gong, he remarked, “It’s a different position, I’ve gone from the forwards to the backs, it’s a big honour at the end of the year and it’s something you will look back on when you retire with great fondness”.
“I wouldn’t have expected this back in 2018 when I won the last one to be back in the backs but it is an honour to be here and to win an All Star award, it is a great thing for Clare and for my family”.
He kept it easy on the socialising side of things on the Friday night, heading to Clonlara training on Saturday before they defeated Kiladangan in the Munster club on Sunday. He’ll only begin thinking about Clare when their memorable campaign concludes, “I’ll be back in training in a few weeks time, I’ll ask Brian for a few weeks off after the club campaign, I’m looking forward to going back again, the body feels good, you’d be long enough looking on the sideline so I might as well keep going while I can”.
Looking back on Clare’s year, the primary school teacher reflected, “We were there or thereabouts in the Munster final and the All-Ireland semi-final, we could have got over the line but we didn’t so it was frustrating but we have to learn from it and see where we can go for next year, there was a lot of positives, we brought a lot of new lads into the panel who got game time, we have to push on next year and get out of the minefield of Munster again”.
He was pleased to see his teammate O’Donnell also recognised for the second time. “Shane is an unbelievable talent, he is one of those players you love to watch when you’re hitting the ball up the field and you’re stuck to find somewhere you just look for Shane because nine times out of ten he will win the ball for you. He’s had two unbelievable seasons and I’m glad to hear he is coming back for next year”.