No parish has provided more Clare leaders over a longer span of time than Kilkishen/O’Callaghan’s Mills, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh, who pays tribute to those who flew the captaincy flag before Patrick Donnellan ushered in the club’s finest hour by lifting the Liam McCarthy.
YOU could call it the perfect ten.
The perfect ten for a club and a community with a history of leadership like no other when you leaf through the back catalogue of the game in the county and the captains that led Clare into championship battle.
There have been ten captains from Kilkishen/ O’Callaghan’s Mills.
John Kelly, James ‘Jay’ Hurley, Denis ‘Dunny’ O’Callaghan, Tom ‘The Colonel’ McGrath, Tom McInerney, Pa ‘Fowler’ McInerney, Martin ‘Neighbour’ McNamara, Jack Gleeson, Patrick ‘Pappy’ O’Callaghan and finally Patrick Donnellan.
Clare captains all. All of the first nine would have stories to tell if they were still with us – stories to run the gamut of Clare’s early hurling history, but it’s with Patrick Donnellan that rests the greatest story of all.
Captain number ten and the proud bearer of badge of captaincy honour made famous in the Mills and Kilkishen before him by all those nine who went before him.
John Kelly was the first, and who appropriately enough helped put Clare hurling on the All-Ireland map all of 117 years ago when he was spirited away from the Mills to line out with Tulla’s Robert Emmets in the 1896 Croke Cup final win over Wexford.
Kelly captained the county in 1900 and again eight years later when the Mills were up in lights nationally once more as they dominated the Clare selection with nine players on he team that claimed the Croke Cup for the second time.
James ‘Jay’ Hurley was next, captaining Clare in 1904 and ’06 – he was a player of such repute that the New York journal, The Irish-American Advocate once described him as ‘The World’s Greatest Hurler’, because of his star qualities “when victory seemed impossible and the name of this famous team being thrown to the wind, JJ played a Herculean part, nerving his fellow players onto victory himself using his scientific art, thereby hanging up another laurel for the great team he gallantly defended”.
Those words from over a century ago could have been recycled to describe Patrick Donnellan in the second half of the All-Ireland – all because there was a time “when victory seemed impossible” and the Rebel uprising threatened to ensure that “the name of this famous team” would be thrown to the wind.
Enter Patrick Donnellan with one soaring catch of the sliotar being as good as anything Bobby Rackard, John Keane or Seanie McMahon produced in their day as “he played a Herculean part, nerving his fellow players onto victory himself using his scientific art, thereby hanging up another laurel for the great team he gallantly defended”.
Maybe it’s just a Mills thing. Maybe it’s why they’ve produced more Clare captains than any other club in the county, with Hurley followed by Denis ‘Dunny’ O’Callaghan (1907), Tom ‘The Colonel’ McGrath (1911 and ’13), Tom McInerney (1919), all of whom were part of that Croke Cup winning team of 1908.
McGrath was like Donnellan was an All-Ireland winner – he was one of five Mills men on the 1914 winning team, with his club compatriats being Ned Grace, John Shalloo and Pa ‘Fowler’ McInerney.
‘Fowler’ was the 20-year-old goalkeeper who went on to become the first great Clare full-back, played county hurling for 20 years, won his second All-Ireland with Dublin in 1927 and was paid the ultimate accolade by county colleague John Joe ‘Goggles’ Doyle who said “when pressure was greatest he was one of the coolest”.
Martin ‘Neighbour’ McNamara was next up in the captaincy roll of honour – he must have been a cool customer too, after all he’d survived on one of the Western Fronts in Flanders during the World War and then was a member of Michael Brennan’s East Clare Brigade during the War of Independence – after all that he found the time to hurl, winning championships with Kilkishen in ’23 and ’32, as well as the Mills in ’37.
His year of captaincy came in ’24, following Kilkishen’s championship win over Feakle the year before, while ten years after that championship success Kilkishen had its next captain in Jack Gleeson.
He won an All-Ireland medal with the Dubs in ’27, but success in the Clare colours finally came his way in ’32 when he was on the Munster championship winning team with his club colleagues Pa ‘Fowler’ McInerney and Tom ‘Fowler’ McInerney.
Then the last captain before Donnellan was Patrick ‘Pappy’ O’Callaghan in ’38 – he manned the goal on the Clare side beaten by Waterford in that year’s Munster final while eight years later was full-back on the Clare 15 that brought a first ever National League title home to the county.
For the link between those Kilkisken/O’Callaghan’s Mills teams and today look no further than Patrick Donnellan – his grandfather Stephen Donnellan was on the championship winning teams with Martin ‘Neighbour’ McNamara in ’32 and ’37, with ‘Pappy’ O’Callaghan being a team-mate in ’37.
Now, 75 years on from when the Kilkishen/O’Callaghan’s Mills last had a captain came their finest hour – when Patrick Donnellan became the first captain from the parish to bring home the All-Ireland trophy.
It’s why the parish never had a night like the one on the Monday after the All-Ireland was won. PJ O’Connell and Ger Moroney flew the flag for club and parish in ’95 when the county came in from the cold of 81 years, while O’Connell was there again in ’97.
But this was different.
“It was special,” says former club chairman Joe Cooney, whose son Conor was also part of the All-Ireland winning squad. “It was a night to live long and forever in the memories of anyone from the Mills or anyone who came to Kilkishen,” says another former chairman, Mike O’Brien.
The night Liam McCarthy was walked up main street Kilkishen by the Tulla pipers. Clare’s tenth captain from Kilkishen/O’Callaghan’s Mills; the second All-Ireland final captain from the parish after Paddy McInerney from Clonloum led Limerick into battle against Galway in ’23. Ninety years on Donnellan was the first captain to bring home the title.
The greatest day in Kilkishen/O’Callaghan’s Mills history. It has to have been.