YOUR NAME is Shane O’Donnell and you have just wandered into the minefield of modern fame. You didn’t ask for this and you don’t like it. But you have to deal with it.
Last month, you were anonymous within your own town, never mind the world. You may have won an All-Ireland U21 medal, may have had teenage girls scribble their names and phone numbers on your arm after the victory but you weren’t alone. All around you, other Clare players were getting the same treatment and you were no more or no less than any of them.
“And then 70 minutes changed my whole life,” you say. You score 3-3 in an All-Ireland senior final. You are man of the match and man of the moment. You get interviewed after the final whistle and the world of social media crazily writes about your looks rather than your hurling.
There is mad stuff about Louis Walsh signing you up to be face of the next boyband and already you are beginning to scent the complications. This isn’t what you signed up for, this sort of talk, where your innocence and your promise get ground into the dirt.
“Everything has become so different to what I am used to,” you say. “Since the All-Ireland, it has been insane. I don’t like the publicity. People feel compelled to stop you — every second person. Before it was a salute or two, or people might say hello. But that would be it. You wouldn’t be expected to talk about a match.”
The good news is you are a college student in Cork so there is an escape from the madness, a room in a house with four friends who knew you when you were just Shane O’Donnell, not the player who was handed an unexpected start in the All-Ireland final replay and bagged a hat-trick within 20 minutes, not the guy who has been told he is hurling’s saviour.
“I plan to deal with this by avoiding the vast majority of it. It’s not my scene. I’d much rather be out on the pitch. I don’t like the media aspect of it, at all.
“I will get opportunities to do things, promotional stuff but I wouldn’t be reading too much into that because if you really start into that game, then it is a never-ending road and before you know it, it will creep into your hurling time and I will start spending time thinking about promotions and not hurling. And you are never going to win at that.
“Put it this way, I would take an All-Ireland medal before I would take five or six million Euro. The All-Ireland is what I want.”
And the All-Ireland is what you — and Clare — got in the most glorious of seasons the ancient game has ever known. Down the line, down the road, you stopped to think about what had happened, not just your goals and points, but the victory, just the fourth All-Ireland in your county’s history.
You were on the way to Clonlara with Podge Collins who looked like he would be the next Shane O’Donnell until O’Donnell went and scored 3-3 against Cork. “Imagine,” you said. “All the history of hurling and Clare have just had this cup in our hands three times. Now we have gone and done it for a fourth time. That’s a massive deal.”
It is. Yet you want more. You look at Kilkenny and how they changed the mould before they changed the game. Winning one was never enough. They wanted more and more until half the country hated them and the other half were scared of them.
Is this is Clare’s make-up?
“The fact we have won one All-Ireland with our best mates is the stuff of dreams. But the plan is to do something that people can’t forget — like Kilkenny. You want to leave a legacy so that you don’t be known as one-offs.
“It will be difficult for us next year. Some teams think of someone like Kilkenny and in the back of their head, they’re expecting to lose because it’s Kilkenny whereas we will be the champions they want to knock off our perch.
“But the good thing is we don’t have any kind of mental baggage because we’re all so young and haven’t lost much either. I don’t come across any team and think, ‘Oh God these guys hammered us a few years ago’.
“I’d love to think there is [a ruthless streak] within us. We won’t be able to answer that yet.
“But we are where we are because of our mentality. We’re professional in everything we do — except we don’t get paid.”
As we listen, the thing that strikes us most is the maturity.
Is it because of your brother, Oisin, who’s serving with the Irish Army in Israel, who has seen things you can’t imagine? Is it because you’ve been brought up in a family where everyone is equal and where 3-3 in an All-Ireland doesn’t allow you an extra spud on the plate?
Or is it because every man has a destiny and yours was to be a winner? When opportunity walked through that door, you were dressed and ready for it because beyond your young years, behind the easy smile lies a steely, calm nerve — one that thrives under the pressure.
“The next few years will be tough for him,” says your manager, Davy Fitzgerald. “People will want a piece of him. Some will want to knock him. But he’s a remarkable young man and we’ll look out for him.”
Every third day, Fitzgerald calls. “How’re you doing now?” he asks. It’s part of the plan to provide you with a coping mechanism.
Yet being in Cork and away from the madding crowd is the best tonic of all. You can just get by being a student, working your way through exams, escaping onto a hurling field to ready yourself for the Fitzgibbon Cup. Heading out — after the last bus has stopped running — is not for you.
You will cope because you were bred to. You will remember the night of the All-Ireland when you were in the team-hotel and out of the corner of your eye, you caught a glimpse of your parents.
Getting to where they were standing — less than 30 yards away — took half-an-hour as you waded through the backslappers, the drunks, the well-wishers, the ne’er-do-wells. “It’s weird, you think of pride and everyone has seen a picture of Oisin crying. It went across the web. It’s rare you see pride pictured so overtly but he was my brother, in a faraway land, and it meant so much to him.
“It was the same with my parents. But it was a different way of expressing it. We didn’t say much, then. We just kind of looked at each other and smiled. ‘Well done,’ they said.”
That was the best part of your day.