By Brian McDonnell
THE mere thought of John O’Brien is enough to bring Clare hurling supporters out in a cold sweat.
The Toomevara man has scored 2-6 during his last two outings (2008 & 2009) against the Banner and will be eager to add to that tally in Páirc na nGael on Sunday. O’Brien however will not take the Clare challenge lightly. Irrespective of the fact that Clare have only won three games in the Munster championship since 2000 the Toomevara man refuses to write off their chances.
“A lot of people are, but we’re definitely not,” John O’Brien told the Tipperary Star.
“Every time Tipp play Clare it’s always a tough game. Even when you go back to last year we played them in a practice game in Borris-Ileigh and they gave us a bit of a trimming. So, we’re expecting a tough, physical game. If you go back to 2009 we only won by two points (Munster semi-final 3-18 to 1-22) and with the last puck of the game it could have gone Clare’s way. We competed in the All-Ireland final that year so Clare are not that far away at all.”
In recent months John O’Brien has been troubled by a back injury, but such is the competition for starting places that O’Brien does not want to miss a single minute: “when you get picked to play you want to play. You know deep down that the panel is so strong and the bench is so strong that if one of those gets in they are more than likely going to hold onto it because the talent is there. So, yeah you have to keep yourself right. There’s a lot of work off the field to try and keep yourself right and get yourself right. At the moment the competition is very healthy. It’s very competitive so you have to watch yourself.”
Tipperary hurling supporters take particular interest in the work ethic of their players. It is vital that they go about the game with pride and passion and that they wear their hearts on their sleeves.
A great value is often placed on conspicuous toil and supporters of the blue and gold can always be guaranteed that Paul Curran will give his all - you would have to take a lump hammer onto the field to get anything off this Mullinahone man.
Curran faces into his 35th championship game on Sunday, but the memories of his first start for Tipp against Clare in 2003 remain on the painful side - Tipperary got walloped that day in Páirc Uí Chaoimh (0-14 to 2-17).
“My debut was against Clare and they gave us a right pasting down in Cork,” Paul Curran explained.
“I remember running out onto the pitch and the noise just hit me and I was taken aback by it. I didn’t have a good experience that day, maybe I should have gone to America (that summer).”
Personally, Paul Curran was not happy with the performance of the Tipperary defence against Cork. The mere mention of the 23 points conceded draws a grimace: “when we looked at the stats there were 17 frees and ten scorables so I don’t think as a unit we played particularly well against Cork.
“It’s difficult to play against Cork as a back because the ball just doesn’t come in 50-50 and it’s measured. We know Clare play a similar style to Tipp and just let the ball in quick and you fight for the ball. We know what’s ahead of us.”
Although Paul Curran was a member of the 2001 panel winning last year’s final meant a lot more to him personally: “It was a dream that I always had. In 2001 I didn’t make the 24, I did get a medal, but it didn’t really count.
“So, to earn it on the field was a huge honour for me, my family and for the club especially. But I suppose that’s last year. The year just flew and I could not believe how quick it was when the Cork game came around. That’s done and dusted now last year.”
But can this Tipp team successfully defend an All-Ireland title for the first time since 1965: “It’s a huge challenge because Tipp, I don’t know what it is with us that we get carried away, don’t have a good record of defending All-Ireland or even Munster titles.
“So, it’s going to be a massive challenge”.