Louis Mulqueen knows what it’s like to win All-Irelands in Croke Park – a win on Saturday would bookend a 30 year involvement with Clare teams writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh,
IN the bowels of the Hogan Stand after the Limerick game Louis Mulqueen spoke in detail about All-Ireland finals. He was well qualified, given the range of his experience stretching back three decades.
The winning of them: with St Flannan’s College as a player in ’82, with the Clare minors in 97 and then St Joseph’s Doora-Barefield two years later; the losing of them with St Joseph’s Doora-Barefield again in ’99 and with the Clare seniors in 2002.
“A great place, when you win,” mused Mulqueen, “but when you lose. We’ve been here before and it’s about winning and taking that chance, because you don’t know, you never know….”
Five weeks later he expands on the theme. Yes this Clare team has gone further than anyone expected at year’s beginning; yes they’ve ticked every box and answered every question, of themselves as individuals and as a team; yes they have huge futures as the rest of the decade gets ready to open out before them, but… it’s not about the future, it’s about now.
“It’s about winning,” says Mulqueen, cutting through any dross about master plans, longterm goals, works in progress and all that. “The quicker they win,” he continues. “Talking to Ger Loughnane and to Davy, the confidence when you make that breakthrough, you become stronger as a unit. If you lose, it puts a few doubts into it, doesn’t it?
“It puts doubts into it, even though they’re phenomenal and they’ll be there again next year. You’ll always say if you can win this one there’s an air of confidence that will come with it.
“Look who’s around next year. All these teams are coming again. Galway will be around next year, so will Tipp. You have to take the chances when you get them and this is a serious chance for Clare hurling.
“We don’t pluck up too many All-Irelands in Clare. To say we’d be back is bravado talk – we’re here now, so you take it if you can. I would have said in 2002 that we’d get another crack – now we’re 11 years later.”
Mulqueen has had three weeks to wait this time, compared with the hurling lifetime of 11 years ago when the team was backboned by legends who already had their medals: Davy Fitzgerald, Brian Lohan, Frank Lohan, Seanie McMahon, Colin Lynch, Jamesie O’Connor, Brian Quinn and Niall Gilligan.
“It was very different,” says Mulqueen, “in that in 2002 some of the team were coming to an end and looking for another medal, while this team is only starting and looking to make the breakthrough.
“I’m convinced that if Cathal McInerney’s shot had gone over the bar we would have won the game and made that breakthrough,” he continues. “The turnabout in the space of 30 seconds – Podge not getting the goal and then Cork getting the goal put us back on the edge. That’s the inches, the decisions for and against and that’s what will decide it again.”
Another fight to the death then as Clare bid to take the giant step from contenders to champions. It was within touching distance the last day, before being swiped away, but it’s now back in their grasp once more as the second installment gets ready for lift-off.
“They (Clare) have got to a high level. They’ve competed, they’ve got to Croke Park, they’ve given a superb performance, but now it matters to win,” he says.
“It’s a new game. Different conditions, lights, it’s a totally new ball game. I think both teams will park the last day. You can talk about learning. This is our sixth time playing Cork this year.
“There hasn’t been anything between us on five occasions. I know in replays one team can walk away and win it by ten points, but I still see very little between the two teams. You’re talking about two teams who will go at each other’s throat in a good way, in a skilful way. Both teams want it so badly. We want it badly, so do Cork.
“Who has an advantage? We have to learn that we leak goals. We have to learn to score goals. We can improve as a team. That wasn’t our ultimate performance. That’s what we have to get out of them.”
You know Mulqueen thinks it’s there for Clare. He was a player on the Harty Cup and Croke Cup winning side that came out of St Flannan’s College in 1982; he was team trainer to the Clare minor team that brought home the only All-Ireland title in the grade in the county 16 years ago; he was trainer/coach to the St Joseph’s Doora-Barefield side that enjoyed their crowded hour on St Patrick’s Day in 1999.
Now to complete the circle at senior inter-county level after 30 years involved with Clare teams at every level.
“As the year goes on you see and think ‘there’s something special in this group’,” he says. “In Croke Park the last day you see the skill of Clare hurlers – jinking, not showboating, but the way Podge Collins flashed the ball over the bar. You’d have been looking at Kilkenny players of the past doing that, but it’s Clare that’s doing it now. You’re talking a crop that need to be nurtured. If they did get a break and win an All-Ireland, there’s a lot lot more in them.”