*Donach O’Donnell. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill
Securing the services of Donach O’Donnell as manager and coach for this year was a definite coup for O’Callaghans Mills but the biggest prize of all is up for grabs when they face neighbours Sixmilebridge on Sunday.
Coach of the Limerick hurlers that were crowned Munster senior hurling champions in 2013, the county’s first in seventeen years, Donach is in his first year involved with a Clare club as O’Callaghans Mills have reached their first senior championship decider since 1993.
Full-back Conor Cooney made the first approach to O’Donnell to gauge his interest in getting involved with the East Clare club and succeeding Pat Loughnane as manager. “I didn’t know what to expect, I had heard they were a decent team that hadn’t a huge amount of recent success but were there or thereabouts and that they were an honest bunch which is what you are looking for and you’re hoping you can bring something different to the table and bring them on,” he recalled of his initial knowledge about the Fireballs.
COVID-19 presented an unforeseen challenge for management teams across the country. During the lockdown, “we didn’t do anything extraordinary,” he confessed. “We had various fitness tests, a few TikTok challenges which the boys weren’t do fond of, we kept in contact. It was a very uncertain time because you didn’t know if you were going to play or not. The only positive thing that came out of COVID from a hurling point of view was the fact that hurlers had a set season, they knew when their matches were coming, how long they had to their matches, it was quite easy to focus them”.
Born in Dublin, Donach has lived most of his life in Mallow but for the past two decades has been based in Nenagh. He was coach of the Nenagh CBS side that contested the Dr Harty Cup final in 2012 but won the Croke Cup that year and began studying a Masters in Applied Coaching at UL last year. Selflessness is pinpointed by O’Donnell as a key trait he looks for in teams and the Masters has proven to be a challenging but rewarding experience.
Video analysis sessions are conducted every Tuesday after the Mills play a match, the manager has noticed a change as the year has progressed in how players approach these sessions. “I’m on the phone on Sunday night after a game to Alan Duggan who gets the videos ready for us and discusses the clips. We do a half hour to forty minute video session depending on the match on the Tuesday night, it is to get the players to understand what we want to achieve and what we are doing, as they have gone on I’ve become less vocal and they’ve become more vocal, it is almost at this stage discussion based whereas at the start I was pointing out a lot of things”.
“It is an extremely important learning tool. One big advantage is it doesn’t drain the players physically, that Tuesday night session is invaluable, we can work on our game without physically hammering the guys and have them focused and understanding. If they can’t understand what we want to do then they won’t be able to do it”.
Sunday will see Donach cross paths with Davy Fitzgerald on a sideline for the first time since the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park when Clare prevailed over Limerick. It was the clash of neighbours and rivals on that day in Jones’ Rd and the same applies in Cusack Park this weekend. “As a coach you have to put your opposition aside, my philosophy is to concentrate on what we are doing. Davy is an exceptional coach with an exceptional record and so have the Bridge, we have to concentrate on what we are doing”.
O’Donnell added, “It sounds very simply but I think if our guys perform they will get the result, that is how we’ve approached other games. The players are very focused, they are almost too focused at times, some players need to be geed up and focused a little bit, other players need to relax a little bit but in general the mood is very good and upbeat, we trained last Thursday night with the Juniors in what was their last session with us, it was lovely to finish their season with a group of 40 altogether where we started”.
Their Juniors finished the year with championship glory overcoming Kilmaley after extra time, that level of fight will be needed in abundance as O’Donnell’s side vie to bring the Canon Hamilton back to East Clare.