*Brian O’Connell. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

MONTHS BACK, Brian O’Connell made a proclamation to his partner that Clare’s minor hurlers would win the All-Ireland.

Sixty minutes on Sunday will tell if that mystic like prediction will come to fruition when Clare take on Galway with national honours on the line.

A former Clare senior hurling captain, BOC is in his second year as county minor manager. The 2022 season ended with Clare defeated in the All-Ireland semi-final to Offaly while they also came up just short in the provincial final, losing an epic in heart breaking fashion by the dreaded lottery of penalties to Tipperary.

This year however, he has witnessed his charges defeat hurling superpowers Cork (twice), Tipperary and Kilkenny on the way to Sunday’s showpiece. Those victories certainly give momentum to the Banner as he eludes to. “We’ve definitely done it the right way and if we can beat Galway after beating all those other teams it would really top it off. Those wins have really brought this group on but we are under no illusions though. It’s going to be a difficult task but it’s one we are looking forward to”.

Prolific forwards form a key part of Galway’s side but O’Connell is quick to point out that Clare are no slouches in the scoring department themselves and is confident Clare are better poised to face the Tribesmen than they were twelve months ago. “We’ve also got some decent forwards too. We’ve put up some fine scores. Last year when we played Galway we were definitely hungover from the Munster Final and we just didn’t perform. We’ve played them in a couple of challenge matches, obviously there’s an element of shadow boxing in challenge matches. We know them well and they will be favourites but I’m very hopeful that we can have a decent crack at them”.

It was following one of these early season challenges that the Shannon man returned home and told his partner that there was an All Ireland in this group of players. “I could just see there was something special about them. I felt these lads were and are capable of doing whatever they want and I stand by that still. I think they’re a really honest and special group of hurlers. I stand by that statement and hopefully it will be proven right on Sunday,” he said.

Years of developing is reaping rewards for the Clare teenagers who thrive off wearing the saffron and blue, BOC told The Clare Echo. “No matter what level of inter-county you’re involved in that level of self-discipline and desire to be here stands to you. You really have to be committed and your families have to be committed too. These lads are being dropped all around the county by their parents since last December and for several years if you take the time with development squads into it. They really do enjoy it immensely so that makes it a lot easier”.

“Schools like Ard Scoil Rís, St. Flannans and Tulla have been so important. The level of coaching these lads have received is unreal. They embrace their hurling and in those schools they get an excellent hurling education and they develop a love for it”.

That the mood is so positive within Clare hurling doesn’t bring an extra degree of pressure but the ex Wolfe Tones hurler said it was important not to lose their focus. “We all got caught up in the hype of Cusack Park against Cork, the music afterwards, the whole place rocking like never before. It was absolutely fantastic but we have to stay grounded. If you don’t stay focused you’re in trouble”.

O’Connell continued, “Having survivors from last year has stood to us. It means they’ve been listening to a similar message over the last couple of years. It helps then to embed that message to others then. Those lads are definitely the leaders and if leaders buy into what you’re doing then everybody else follows. We will be fully focused when that sliotar is thrown in and I have no worries on that score. To be honest we can’t wait for it”.

Playing is a much more enjoyable experience to management, he admitted. “I’d much rather be the other side of the white line to be honest. I still get notions and think I can play but the body unfortunately says no. To be honest I’ve such a good management group that a lot of the decisions are made quite easily because we are fully prepared. Everybody knows their role and we’ve been working together for so long that we are on the same wavelength. We believe in our way of playing and that also helps. I really do trust my management team”.

A second-ever All-Ireland minor title is the prize on offer for Clare this weekend. Regardless of the outcome, BOC is confident of the future talent that will continue to wear the county colours.

“It would be a massive sense of relief to be honest (to win). It’s not going to be easy. We’ve only won one All Ireland back in 1997 and I’d nearly name all that team for you. It’s going to be a massive occasion and I’m hoping that after it’s over that we are only the start of it. There’s many more teams to follow us. The way things are structured now in the county it’s like we have a conveyor belt of talent. It’s so well managed at underage now. I don’t want to name people because there’s so many and I’ll forget someone but Kieran McDermott deserves special mention for setting a standard that all teams now follow”.

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

Subscribe for just €3 per month

If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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