The 1997 Munster semi-final meeting between Clare and Cork in Cusack Park had a comic book ending, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh, who recalls a famous afternoon that took place 16 years ago this month.
MARTIN Daly was wheeling away like Gerd Muller after he put the ball in the Dutch net in ’74; Davy Keane was running straight across the 21-yard line; John O’Keeffe was stuck to his spot behind the goal and almost transfixed while Francis McInerney was beside referee Mick Curley.
It was June 22, 1997 – Clare v Cork in Cusack Park and the end of the trilogy, complete with a finale that couldn’t even have been scripted by Francis Ford Coppola himself – it was belonging more to comic strip than celluloid; more Roy of the Rovers than The Godfather.
“It was coming,” says Martin Daly. “It was coming for a couple of years,” he adds. Not the goal, but the victory. The last kick. The last second. It couldn’t have been more dramatic as Clare scored their first win over Cork since 1941.
It ranks as one of the great Clare football occasions – second behind the Munster final win five years previously in terms of impact on the wider football world.
“In ’96 we were very unlucky to lose after extra-time below in Cork after drawing in Cusack Park,” says Daly. “We went out full of confidence in ’96 and had Beano sent off in the first five minutes of the second half of that replay.
“We played the full second half with 14 and six or seven points down and brought it back to an all-square game. We were two or three points up in extra-time – Aidan O’Keeffe was on fire the same day – until they got a fluke of a goal that came off the post, they got the rebound and stuck it in the net. That was the turning point.
“We had them on the rack and left that one, 100 per cent behind us. The full belief probably wasn’t there that we could beat them in ’96. We had that small bit of doubt – had we got it in us to beat the Kerrys and the Corks. That doubt was gone in ’97 though. We knew that we could beat them – especially having them on home ground. We owed them one,” he adds.
Thing is, Cork didn’t play to that script for much of the game – Stephen O’Brien’s 20th minute goal helped them into a 1-8 to 0-5 interval lead, while they tagged on a couple of points after half-time to move eight clear.
“It was a very bad start,” says Michéal McDermott, who was a Clare selector that year, “but that was down to nerves. We knew we were good enough and had a great chance but Cork settled and we didn’t and it was running away from us”.
“It was sloppy,” says Daly. “We wanted a good start, but after Cork went well clear we never panicked. The fitness level was so high under John O’Keeffe that we knew we were still going to be going 100 per cent in the last couple of minutes of that game,” he adds.
And so the fight-back began – substitute Cathal Shannon and his Éire Óg clubmate Barry Keating kicked inspirational points from play into the town goal on the shed side of the field; Ger Keane kicked points for fun in this greatest display in a Clare jersey.
“They just couldn’t put us away,” recalls Keane, “and the longer we stayed in it we gave ourselves a chance. We were catching them on the counter-attack. We just kept battling away but coming up to the end there was a sense it was going to be one of those days when we had put in a good effort but had fallen short again. What made it all the more memorable was the way we won it – usually that type of thing would be done to Clare. To catch one of the big teams in the last minute was brilliant. The game was over, but the last gasp goal was incredible,” he adds.
It all came down to Keane and Martin Daly – who in a couple of seconds catapulted themselves onto the pantheon. Keane had already hit 0-8 in a memorable display of point-taking, while Daly was about to explode.
“It was a short free about 25 or 26 yards out,” recalls Keane, “and there was seven, eight, nine Cork players behind the ball because the game was nearly up.”
“We knew that the time was as good as gone,” says Daly.
“I don’t know who won the free. I knew Ger was grabbing the ball and was in a rush to pop it over the bar to get things going. He was throwing them over for fun that day – everything was going over, left and right.
“Ger, myself and a few more had asked how long was left – there might have been a chance of a kick-out and we could have gone for the point, but we said no. It had to be a goal”.
“I was on the sideline, but up in that half of the field,” recalls McDermott, “while John O’Keeffe moved around to the back of the goal. Cork had everyone back and it was as if everything was being sucked towards the goal,” he adds.
“Someone roared. ‘No we need to go for goal’,” says Daly. “It was John O’Keeffe,” says Keane, “as he signalled to me to go for the goal and pointed his finger down”.
Then between them they conjured up a goal to live long in the memory.
“As I kicked, Daly moved,” says Keane, “but even then he had loads to do. It was an unbelievable finish really – he had to beat the defender first and then had to put it into the corner from about 15 yards out. It was fairytale stuff for to score”.
“I made the run,” says Daly. “Ger gave me the ball. I kicked it and it went through one or two legs and hit the net. When it’s going to happen for you, you’re going to get the breaks. We had worked so hard over the previous few years that we deserved some bit of luck, but that’s what we got at the end of the day.
“If you’re going to go for goal you’re not going to blast it from 21 yards and beat two or three on the line. I was lucky. I made the sidestep and one of the lads who was marking me, Eoin Sexton slipped.
“That helped me make one bit of a break. Then it went through another fella’s legs and the goalie, because there were so many defenders there didn’t get a full view of it, saw it late. It wasn’t that it was stuck in the top corner with power – it really rolled over the line, but you take them any way they come.”
With that there was pandemonium.
Daly wheeling away in triumph; O’Keeffe stuck to the spot; David Keane on the run and Francis McInerney beside the referee, like he was in ’92 when Paddy Russell handed him the ball when blowing the final whistle.
This was different though.
“I’ll never forget it,” says Daly. “The ball was put down by the goalie, Kevin O’Dwyer, in a rush and he took two or three steps back and Davy Keane, who came on as a sub ran straight at it and let fly with a boot out over the fence into the stand just to delay it further. When he put it down again it was over.”
At that second Francis McInerney jumped into Mick Curley’s arms in celebration; while John O’Keeffe had moved from behind the goal into his old full-back position to join the celebrations.
It was all in to mark Clare’s first win over the Rebels in 56 years.
James Hanrahan (Éire Óg), Alan Malone (Éire Óg), Frankie Griffin (Kilrush Shamrocks),, Padraig Gallagher (Doonbeg), Barry Keating (Éire Óg) (0-1), Brendan Rouine (Ennistymon), Aodán MacCarthaigh (Éire Óg), Donal O’Sullivan (Kilrush Shamrocks), Peter Cosgrove (Éire Óg), Ger Keane (St Senan’s Kilkee) (0-8), Francis McInerney (Doonbeg), Michael Hynes (Michael Cusack’s) (0-1), Paadraig Conway (Doonbeg), Odran O’Dwyer (Kilmurry Ibrickane), Martin Daly (Lissycasey) (1-3). Subs John Enright (St Senan’s Kilkee) for MacCarthaigh, Cathal Shannon (Éire Óg) (0-1) for Conway, David Keane (Kilfeonora) for O’Sullivan.
Kevin O’Dwyer, Brian Murphy, Mark O’Connor, Eoin Sexton, Ciaran O’Sullivan, Brian Corcoran (0-1), Podsie O’Mahony, Pat Hegarty, Fachtna Collins (0-3), Joe Kavanagh (0-3), Stephen O’Brien (1-0), Colin Corkery (0-4), John O’Driscoll, Aidan Dorgan (0-2). Subs Mark O’Sullivan for Cronin, Ronan McCarthy for O’Mahony, Johnny Buckley for Dorgan.
Referee Mick Curley (Galway)