*Patrick O’Connor. Photograph: Seb Daly / Sportsfile
Patrick O’Connor holds the tag as the longest serving member of the Clare team, this weekend he is determined to maintain his place in the starting fifteen.
Sport has become a beacon of hope for some members of the public during the pandemic and to qualify for the last six in such a peculiar campaign is a big plus for the banner, O’Connor felt. “It is extremely satisfying, it has been a very unusual year so it is great to get the chance to be playing each weekend and enjoying the way it is rolling on week on week, it is definitely making the winter shorter for us”.
Called onto the panel in 2011 by Ger ‘Sparrow’ O’Loughlin, the Tubber defender was an ever-present part of the Clare defence under Davy Fitzgerald and was later honoured with the captaincy by Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor during their tenure.
Along with Jack Browne, David Fitzgerald and Diarmuid Ryan, Pat was one of four players dropped following Clare’s ten point Munster quarter-final defeat to Limerick. Receiving such a setback understandably came as a blow.
“It was tough but I’ve no divine right to be playing. It was only David Fitzgerald asking me when was the last time I had missed a match or didn’t start a championship match and I couldn’t genuinely tell him, I wasn’t told I wasn’t playing it was only when the team was named that I realised I wasn’t in but that’s sport. I put in the effort to play but I tried not to sulk and put down the head too much at the time, I had been playing for a while so I thought I had something to offer the lads be it a word in the ear or whatever for the lads that were playing. I went into training on Tuesday night and tried to show I had something to offer”.
True to form, the three time Connacht Colleges Senior A hurling medallist was back with a vengeance in training and was rewarded by a return to wing-back where he helped to steady up their back line as they held off the challenge of Wexford.
He told The Clare Echo, “I don’t think I pulled up any trees but I was happy to be part of the unit that went and did our job. We were all asked to do as well as we could with our own individual duel and try and do as well for the man beside, behind and in front of you. Everyone is trying to put in a shift as a unit in the backs, you can’t be a me féiner back there, it’s for the greater good and thanks be to God we held out, there was a spell in the end where they were real defiant pouncing for goal and to get out with no goal conceded was great even though we did ride our luck, there was one particular play where I don’t know how it stayed out. Hopefully I did enough to put my name in the hat for contention at the weekend”.
The lift given to the county by the weekend’s performance was lost on O’Connor who admitted the absence of the atmosphere has taken from this year’s campaign. “It is the one thing I have struggled a little bit with is the lack of the interaction with the crowd on match day and the lack of appreciation that a crowd can give following a certain play or score or a tackle, it is something I really miss but bar a couple of countries around the world it is the way every country is dealing with sport at the moment but certainly it is something I miss and meeting the few familiar faces afterwards and the supporters that would have travelled after us and Clare hurling for years and years”.
Chances to impress are few and far between in training given the short window, he felt “we stumbled over the line” against Laois but referenced the manner in which John Conlon and Tony Kelly spoke to the panel last Tuesday as “setting the tone for the week” en route to beating last year’s Leinster champions. If given the opportunity, the 2013 All-Ireland winning back will be one of the players leaving every last drop on the field to try secure a semi-final spot.