Shane O’Donnell wasn’t the first Clareman to score three goals in an All-Ireland final, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh, who pieces together the tragic story James Guerin who was the first man to scale such All-Ireland final heights for the Banner County.
A FEW paragraphs in a local newspaper is all he got in the end, while his own club history just gives him a few lines.
He was James Guerin, but better known as Jim. The Saturday Record called him a ‘Townie’ back in 1918 following his untimely passing – a mistake repeated by The Clare People in the past week. But as ‘Blue’ blood Mike O’Leary was quick to point out, he was Newmarket-on-Fergus and Ballycar, the same townland that sent Michael D Higgins on his way to Áras an Uachtaráin.
Guerin’s crowded hour came on the last occasion, prior to this year, that Clare hammered home five goals in an All-Ireland final. It was 99 years ago on October 18 next when Clare landed their first All-Ireland title.
Much like O’Donnell was on Saturday week last, Guerin was the man apart, whose goals catapulted Clare towards history.
O’Donnell is just 19; Guerin was a just a year older at 20. Both scored three goals in the All-Ireland final. All of O’Donnell’s strikes came in the first half as they opened up a 3-9 to 1-11 half-time lead. Two of Guerin’s came in the first half as they moved them clear by 3-1 to 0-0 at the short whistle.
The similarities didn’t end there, because Guerin had been catapulted into the All-Ireland final line-up by team trainer Jim Hehir (father of Michael O’Hehir) at the 11th hour, just like Davy Fitzgerald did with O’Donnell.
Guerin hadn’t featured in the Munster final line-up, just as O’Donnell hadn’t featured in the starting teams against Galway, Limerick and then Cork in the drawn All-Ireland final.
The rest is the history in the All-Irelands won by the goalscoring exploits of these two poachers – the lesser known fact is the tragic end that Guerin suffered just four years after his hour of glory.
While one of his Newmarket-on-Fergus team-mates on that All-Ireland winning team in John Fox traded the hurling fields for fighting fields of the Western Front when he joined the Munster Fusiliers, Guerin stayed at home.
Fox lived to tell the tale, but Guerin didn’t, dying just after the Great World War came to an end in 1918 when succumbing to the ‘Great Flu’. Guerin had played his club hurling with Newmarket up until 1916, being of the first ever team to bring the county senior title to the parish in 1912 when they beat O’Callaghan’s Mills in the final before transferring his allegiances to the newly formed Ballycar club after 1916.
His last game for Clare was in the Munster final of 1918 that took place on September 15 of that year – a humbling experience for the Banner County as they went down by 11-3 to 1-2 to Limerick.
Just over three months later he was dead following the outbreak of influenza around the county.
“There has been an outbreak of the dreaded scourge of influenza in this district,” reported The Saturday Record in early November 1918. “The dreadful scourge continues to rage through the district, with violence little, if any, abated,” another Saturday Record report said later in the month, adding that “in some cases the victims were only a few days ill”.
In mid-Decmember it claimed the life of Jim Guerin, with the Record reporting that “Gaels throughout Clare will regret to hear of the death of one of the best known and popular Gaels in Clare, who has just gone to his long rest.
“This is Mr James Guerin of Ballycar who worthily upheld the credits of the Banner County in many a hard-fought field. He was one of the splendid combination which represented Clare in hurling against Cork at Thurles, and later in the All-Ireland Championship at Croke Park, against Leix and won the coveted medals for Clare.
“He was instrumental in winning the county championship for his native town, and later he was a brilliant member of the team from his native parish.
“His vigorous health was unable to avert the dreadful ‘flu and an attack was followed by acute pneumonia, to which he succumbed. Poor Jim was only about 24 and leaves an invalid father and mother to mourn the loss of as true a Gael as ever wielded a camán on the green sod of Clare. May he sleep lightly beneath it,” The Saturday Record added.
In the after-glow of Shane O’Donnell’s stunning exploits, it’s only right to remember the first Clareman to fire home three goals in an All-Ireland final.
He’s remembered in ‘Up the Blues’, the Newmarket-on-Fergus hurling ballad in which the third verse is dedicated to the men of ’14:
‘In 1914 ‘twas our first great All-Ireland,
The Blues played a part that was noble and bold.
The boys from the Fergus banks sprang from the serried ranks,
Dashing into battle like lions to the fold.
Who’ll see such men again,
As Doherty and Guerin then,
With Clancy and Fox slashing fearless and free.
Today can their captain tell,
How bravely they fought and well,
Renown for Newmarket and glory for the Blues.’
Remarkably, ‘Up the Blues’ is sung to the air of ‘O’Donnell Abú’.
There must be something in that.
All that’s left is another ballad to honour the team of ‘13. To the air of ‘O’Donnell Abú’ of course.