Fr Enda Glynn from Lahinch has been supporting Clare hurling teams since the mid-1950s. It’s been a labour of love through thin and thick times, he tells Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.
BRISEANN an dúchas trí shúil an chait.
It was the sheanfhocail used in the early days of TG4, but comes hurling to mind when explaining away Fr Enda Glynn’s passion when it comes to following Clare teams.
Tá sé aige ó dhúchas, as he explains by reeling in nearly 60 years of travelling wherever hurling took Clare. League, championship, summer, winter.
A common denominator has been the Lahinch man, whether by planes, trains or automobiles.
“It comes from my father,” he says, recalling his very first journey to see Clare play. Just the two of them, Patrick and his six-year-old son Enda.
“It was in 1955,” he reveals. “I wasn’t at the first game in the championship that year when they played Cork in Thurles. I remember my father telling me afterwards that Jimmy Smyth hit the winning point in his stocking feet. We went then to Clare and Tipperary in Limerick – that was my first day.
“It was a wet day and we won 1-6 to 0-8 points. Jimmy Carney scored the goal from out the field. It was a speculative shot, but it was hit well and it ended up in the back of the net.
“I can remember that day well. It was a ding-dong match. Dermot Sheedy and Carney were in the middle of the field that day. I can remember Paddy Kenny going for a goal for Tipp in the last few minutes to win it for them but Clare somehow kept in out and the crowd roared in the old Gaelic Grounds. I remember that roar.”
So began a journey that’s still running. An education, a page turner of mixed emotions and history, through thin and thick – more thin than thick, “but always hopeful times”, says Glynn, “because Clare always had great, great players.
“My father used to talk about the ’32 All-Ireland that Clare lost to Kilkenny and used to talk about seeing Tull Considine going through near the end for a goal – he was hooked and blocked and the chance of the All-Ireland was gone.
“My father played football for Clare. He won a championship in 1932 with Galway Gaels and one with Miltown Malbay – we won’t say which one he was illegal with.
“That’s where the interest came from. We used to leave Lahinch at 10.30am – the two of us in the car, just the two of us and we’d head off. We used to go to the matches in Ennis – I remember in ’56 Clare played Westmeath in the league in the last Sunday in February. They won 8-8 to 2-6. Jimmy Smyth scored 4-5. Two weeks we played Tipperary again. Tipp won 2-5 to 2-3 but Jimmy Barrett from Lisdoonvarna scored two goals. My father used to always say that ‘to win and lose is a sportsman’s lot’. We had to put with losing for a long time.”
But Fr Enda was one of those who never lost the faith. When billeted in a parish in Connemara in the 1970s, mass times were fixed – by agreement with his flock – around Clare games, while hurling fixtures were also worked in around weddings and funeral services.
“I’d never miss a game, if at all possible,” he says, “because I’d never miss a chance to see them and always believed in them. I remember in 1964 Clare hadn’t won in the Munster championship for four years and we beat Limerick by 4-14 to 2-6 in Nenagh.
“They were playing Tipperary in the next round and Jack Daly who was chairman of the county board – he was asked how we’ll get on against Tipp and he said ‘we’ll beat them back to the Galtee Mountains’. They didn’t do it, but Clare always believed in themselves.
“And we always had great moments. I remember coming out of St Mary’s College in Galway in ’65 and Clare played Galway in the first round of Munster Championship. Galway were leading 2-8 to 0-4 at half-time.
“Clare really turned it around in the seond half and beat them 4-8 to 3-10. When you had days like that it would raise your hopes. In ‘68 there were three wonderful games against Kilkenny and I remember Naoise Jordan cutting the ball over the bar from 30 yards. I was at two of those games. That was a great team.
“I remember in 1980 myself and Pat O’Connor flew up from Shannon to Belfast for a league game – I said two masses in Gort before going and was back for evening mass.
“Another famous occasion in 1998 – the sacristan in Carron died and it was the day of the third match against Offaly. I did a funeral mass in the morning, got a helicopter to the match in Thurles and was back to do a wedding in Noughaval at 5.30pm.
“You just go. You make arrangements to go and that was it. You might have to get a sub to say mass.”
A hurling supporter’s life less ordinary, through some extraordinary times – of plenty and impoverished times, but Enda was always there, in good, bad and great times.
“I think of Jimmy Smyth when it comes to following Clare,” he says, “because he was a wonderful man – not only as a hurler but because of his love for his county. It was special.
“I remember years after he had retired and I was going up to a match in Trim in 1989 and the first person I met inside on the pitch was Jimmy Smyth.
“He was a great Clareman, he didn’t win the All-Ireland himself but he was so proud that contributed along the way towards keeping the flame alive.
“He was a great mind and had a great love for Clare and I remember going to matches when I was based on Connemara – those league finals and Jimmy Smyth would be on Ciaran MacMathúna’s programme on the Radio Éireann singing the ‘Lament for Tommy Daly’. They were great days.
“It was such a pity that team didn’t win a Munster title. There were great expectations and I remember Con Houlihan wrote of great roar that greeted the Clare team. He used the phrase ‘the hunger of barren years that greeted the players when they came out on the field’.
“There were plenty of barren years but we said we’d always keep coming. I remember suffering a very heavy defeat to Waterford in ’89, conceding five goals in the first half. I was very despondent.
“After being beaten in the ’93 Munster final I came down to Thurles the following Wednesday night and Clare played Waterford in the Munster Junior final and Val Donnellan gave an exhibition of point-taking. There were only the hard core of Clare supporters there that night. It was an important night for Clare hurling.”
THAT Munster junior final win was 20 years ago last July – a lot has happened in the intervening time. The revolution of the Loughnane years that Fr Glynn and the rest of the faithful longed for, the fallow years that followed until the uprising of the last four years that has already yielded ten championship trophies since 2009.
The scale of this achievement is only truly recognised when measured up against the fact that in the first 125 years of the GAA from 1884 to 2009 Clare’s haul of championship trophies across all grades was 20.
“It’s been unbelievable following Clare,” says Glynn. “I remember in ’95 when we won Munster, which was the best of all the days, I was afraid it mightn’t happen. Only three minutes from the end, you’d still be thinking that the worst could happen even though the game was won.
“There was a great steel in that team – there was a winning mentality and Loughnane had instilled it into them. He inspired the next generations. I have no doubt about that.
“Now this generation is ready to win an All-Ireland. I started to think there was something when I was down at the Waterford Crystal game against Tipperary and there were Tipp men behind me and one of them said ‘Clare are lighter on their feet’. I came home very hopeful, I knew there was great hope.
“It took it a while to blossom – the biggest change was against Galway, with Conor Ryan centre-back. Most people who were criticising Davy weren’t going to the matches at all.
“This started in 2009 when we won the Munster Under 21 for the first time. I was coming out of the Munster Under 21 final and one of the first I met was Enda O’Connor who had lost the final in ’74 when Clare were red hot favourites. Enda was one of those who kept the flame alive and we had finally won a Munster Under 21 title and it was a real beginning of the journey.”
That journey won’t end if Clare win the All-Ireland Saturday, but it will be one of the biggest milestones along the way of the county’s hurling history.
Briseann on dúchas alright.