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The influence of Clare boss Lohan, facing Davy Fitz and Bugler, and Tony Kelly's stunning exploits

Pat O’Connor helped Clare past Wexford and into the All-Ireland SHC quarter-finals at the weekend.

UNDERSTANDABLY, THE MANAGERIAL sideshow of Brian Lohan and Davy Fitzgerald was a huge talking point ahead of last weekend’s championship showdown between Clare and Wexford. 

pat-oconnor Clare star Pat O'Connor. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Winner takes all, loser goes home, with everything to play for as the race for the Liam McCarthy Cup heated up.

As it transpired, the Banner were seven-point winners in Portlaoise, with Tony Kelly once again the star of the show as Lohan’s men marched into the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

And his former team-mate Fitzgerald saw his Wexford side crash out of the championship a year after lifting the Leinster crown and coming so close on the national stage last year.

Clare’s Pat O’Connor won’t deny that it was a weird day, all in all.

“I suppose between Davy and a good pal of mine Brendan Bugler as well, it’s definitely strange.

“I almost had to stop myself… I’ve come up a good few times against Davy at this stage but after the match, to go up and hug Bugs as I’ve done after many a game, it seems like second nature to go up and put my arm around him but he was obviously on the other side.

“It’s definitely strange but in fairness to Brian, he kind of addressed it at the start of the week and said that there was a kind of rhetoric going on between himself and Fitzy and it was just totally to do with them, it was not our place to get in the middle of it.

“I don’t know what happened, I don’t know what has happened but it’s between the two of them, it had nothing to do with the build-up or the result for us, really.”

While the managerial battle took centre stage in the days before the crunch qualifier, Kelly’s sparkling form has certainly been to the fore and under the spotlight in the aftermath.

The 2013 All-Star, Hurler and Young Hurler of the year fired 1-15 on Saturday, bringing his championship tally to a remarkable 1-45. Even at this early stage, the Ballyea man is a shoo-in for his second All-Star award, and a huge contender for the top individual gong.

And O’Connor admits he certainly saw his team-mate’s form coming after the work he put in through lockdown, Kelly in close contact with strength and conditioning and skills coaches for pointers on how to improve his game.

tony-kelly-with-padraig-chaplin-age-8-from-sixmilebridge Tony Kelly with a young fan earlier this year. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“He really, really, really put the shoulder to the wheel. The result of it is what you see now, just a guy with total confidence and conviction in what he’s doing. I have to say he’s bringing the team along with him and he’s a super guy.

“And I suppose me of all people would be indebted to Tony because I don’t know if you recall but back in 2016, I made two significant blunders for two goals in the league final and he pulled us out that day as well.

“So I’ll always be in debt to him and he’s a super guy and super leader in the team, and hopefully more to come from him.”

“He’s a joy to watch,” O’Connor added. “I was talking to a guy yesterday and he said that if a club match that his club is playing in clashed with a club match that Ballyea were playing in, he’d go and watch Tony Kelly to see just the pure abandon that’s in his game at the moment.

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“He has such confidence in what he’s doing. You saw some of the shots that he took on the last day, not for a second did he think it was going wide. That is a level you reach in your career only a couple of times. And it’s fierce hard to maintain.

“In fairness to Tony, to do it three days in-a-row is incredible. It’s up to us to keep him going. If it’s inevitable that it will dip at some stage, that we all row in behind him and take some of the burden as well.

“As regards an influence around the place, he’s always been heavily influential, a hugely positive and popular guy around the place. Long may it continue for us anyway.”

While O’Connor stresses the game plan isn’t centred around Kelly, he certainly is a huge asset to Lohan, who’s in his first year at the helm. The two-time All-Ireland winner was appointed on a two-year term last October after a lengthy saga.

In taking the reins, Lohan became the fifth member of Clare All-Ireland winning 90s teams to take charge of the senior hurlers, following in the footsteps of Fitzgerald, Cyril Lyons, Anthony Daly and Ger O’Loughlin.

And his tenure has been a joy so far, says O’Connor, who noted before that he was fascinated by his management style.  

brian-lohan-celebrates-after-the-game Brian Lohan celebrates after the win over Wexford. Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it anyway because I’m pushing on a bit and I see the dates of births now of some of the lads, ’95, ’97 they weren’t around for it. I was a child of that era, and I suppose in the years when I was probably open to most influence, it was Clare hurling that was the only show in town for us.

“When you think of Clare hurling back in the day you think of Dalo, Seanie and Brian Lohan. You’ve seen the player he was and now the manager he is, he’s just so comfortable and confident, you know if he picks you that he has total confidence in you, which results in you having confidence in yourself as well.”

Having bounced back from a bitterly disappointing 10-point defeat to Limerick in the opener, Clare have beaten Laois and Wexford since and face Waterford this weekend.

And having lost some big names ahead of the championship, O’Connor is pleased to see other players emerging and putting the hand up.

“100%, and Brian knew that coming in, that he needed to find depth in the panel.

“I suppose he wouldn’t have liked to have found himself in the situation where we’re without four or five very influential players but it has given guys the room and the space to develop and find themselves, to grow into the team.

“He’s gotten just reward for showing faith in those guys and he has now five or six names who you guys mightn’t have heard of but are well equipped at inter-county level now, which is very encouraging for the panel.”

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Emma Duffy

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