ON THE INFAMOUS July evening in 2008 when Clare saw their hopes of Munster U21 hurling title snatched away by Tipperary, Patrick O’Connor was a steward in Cusack Park.
During the chaotic post-match scenes, he witnessed the sense of disappointment amongst his county men at the pain of missing out on their first title in the grade after Donal Tuohy had been penalized for a puck out infringement and Pa Bourke converted the resultant ’65 to clinic victory for the Premier. Yet twelve months later Clare made amends and O’Connor, still eligible for the minor grade at the time, was brought on as as substitute during their historic success over Waterford.
If that was a special victory, then the recent Munster U21 decider win over Tipperary held more significance. There was redemption for Clare when Niall Arthur found the net with a last-gasp strike to win the game. For O’Connor, in his last year at U21 level, this is a season to savor with this afternoon’s Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 hurling semi-final against Antrim representing the next challenge.
“I had the lovely job of being a steward that day in 2008,” O’Connor told TheScore.ie. ”But hopefully it can be forgotten about now after our recent win. I can count on one hand the amount of times I beaten Tipperary at underage so it meant a lot. And while I won a medal in 2009, I was only 18 and not starting. This year I’d like to think I’m more of a key player, so it means more.”
Clare’s recent win over Tipperary was a dramatic one as the Banner overcame a performance that featured some glaring shortcomings to succeed.
“There was a huge expectation on the team since we defeated Waterford in the Munster semi-final,” says O’Connor. “It showed its form in a little bit of nerves against Tipperary with some of our bad wides. Our training was as ferocious as ever beforehand but it’s a young team and that expectation weighed on lads.
“We’ve a strong panel though and that told. For the winning goal there was a fantastic line ball sent in by Peter Duggan, Cathal McInerney won it with three lads on him and gave it off to Niall Arthur who scored a great goal. We’ve great strength in depth.”
O’Connor will line out in defence this afternoon with his Tubber clubmate Ronan Taaffe, a nephew of Clare’s 1995 All-Ireland winning hero Eamonn, in goal. A student in Cork IT, O’Connor was also involved with Davy Fitzgerald’s senior squad this year and believes the crossover between the two panels has assisted their U21 challenge.
“There was a great structure there. Paul Kinnerk was involved in the training of both teams while we saw our U21 managers Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor regularly as well and they were involved with the intermediate teams as well. All the adult Clare teams are told what to do and work on. We’re using the same tactics and it has paid dividend so far.
“We’ve had a fairly successful year with Clare, getting a great championship over Dublin and getting out of Division 1 of the league was great as well. We were bitterly disappointed that we lost to Waterford and Limerick. But it’s been great that we’ve had the U21 to fall back on and get involved in.”