Passion for football in Cratloe runs deep – it’s easy to see why when you sift through the pages of club’s history since the 1970s when the seeds of their big ball revolution were sewn and has helped them reach a first county football final in 126 years.

Eastern promise for big ball

IT’S January 1977 and Cratloe Gaels are gathering for their annual general meeting in the old schoolhouse. And there’s positivity in the air.
On the broader sphere of Clare GAA things, Cratloe’s prized asset, Jackie O’Gorman is flying the flag for the club on an emerging county team on the cusp of something big.
Things are good locally too, thanks to the Junior A Championship final win over Inagh in ’76, which represents the new beginning towards Cratloe’s long march to the top of Clare hurling.
Then there’s football. Extinct, dead and buried in Cratloe for more years than anyone could remember, but in the words of then club secretary John Ryan “there was a football tradition there all the same”.
So it was that Ryan – a Sixmilebridge man who hurled with O’Callaghan’s Mills but now immersed in all things Cratloe – decided to sew some new seeds. Kickstart football’s re-birth in an enclave that was once a bastion for the game.
“It was at that AGM in January 1977,” recalls Ryan travelling down bóithrín an smaointe, “and I put it down on the agenda in my secretary’s report.
With that Ryan, who served a club secretary from 1974 to ’79 before moving on to the County Board in 1981, goes rummaging through his files and unearths the line that would spark the second coming of football in Cratloe.
“It was a question I put down,” says Ryan, asking ‘Is there a need for a junior novice football team in the club, primarily to facilitate new parishioners’.
And so it began. Two months later it was back to the schoolhouse once more for a special meeting being called to establish a football club in Cratloe that would be called St John’s.
“We kept it as a separate club from the hurling,” recalls Ryan, “because we wanted Martin Murphy to play hurling for us, while playing his football with Kilmihil. We got clearance from the county board to do that.”
Seven people attended that first meeting about football. They were: John Ryan, Jim Enright, Sean Keyes, Vincent Laing, Declan Mulcahy, Ray Keogh and Johnny Boyce.
“To keep the whole thing legal we had to have separate officers from the hurling club, so Gerry Considine became chairman, Sean McNamara the vice-chairman, Willie O’Leary treasurer, Sean O’Shea registrar and Vincent Laing was secretary,” recalls Ryan.
“We played four or five games that first year. Our first game aginst Our Lady’s Hospital in Shannon on April and we lost by 0-5 to 0-2,” he adds before naming Cratloe’s first 15.
Sean McInerney, Pat Ryan, Christy Carew, Ray Keogh, Declan Mulcahy, Sean O’Shea, Seamus Reidy, Michael Glesson (uncle of Shane Gleeson), Seanie Killeen, John Boyce, Vincent Laing, Tom Mulcahy, Jack Liddane, M Geary, Jack Chaplin, Jim ‘Benji’ Browne, T Kelly.
“I don’t remember much about it,” admits Jack Chaplin, who is now the club chairman. “We played no home games because we had no home pitch and we weren’t very good that time – at hurling or football,” he adds.
But on they went.
“We played Clonlara in Kilkishen on April 20 and lost by a point,” says Ryan, “but we then gave a walkover to Croabh Rua in the next game. Our best game was against Whitegate when we beat them 6-11 to 3-10 when Harry Galvin scored 5-5.
“In July we played Meelick at Shannon when we only at 14 and were beaten 3-12 to 0-2 and in August we got our comuppence in the championship against Clarecastle. We only had 11 that day and gave a walkover. That finished us for ’77. How did we keep going at all,” he adds.
But keep going Cratloe did – the old adage of where there was football there was hope as Ryan’s report to the AGM in January 1978 proved. “The past year 1977 saw our affairs broadened somewhat with the fielding of a football squad,” he wrote. “At the start it was very worthwhile and some great games gave great satisfaction and enjoyment.
“It must be continued and with new signings and a bit more help from natural footballers on the intermediate team, we could be could be quite a force with the big ball. Its value for fitness purposes to players of either code cannot be over-emphasised.”

THESE were the formative months of modern day Cratloe football, 90 years after the club first flirted with the game when reaching the county final in its maiden voyage. They weren’t thinking county finals this time around though – the more modest goals of fielding teams was the summit of their ambitions back then.
Sometimes it was hard, as Martin Murphy recalls from the early days of his involvement after his playing days with Kilmihil ended in the mid-1980s. “There was always a bit of football with people coming in from different counties, but it was hard to field teams,” he says.
“It wasn’t serious, but there was pure enjoyment out of it – we loved it because we were playing for enjoyment more than competition. I remember one Sunday we went down to Clonlara to play Junior B and we were trying pick lads to make a team. I couldn’t go the same day, but they got a team together, won the game and we went on to win the championship that year,” he adds.
That was 1991 when they beat Ballyvaughan in the Junior B final in Cusack Park with Murphy as captain, their 1-6 to 0-8 win coming thanks to a goal three minutes from time by Ronan O’Hara when he crashed a penalty to the net.
“I started corner back that day,” recalls Murphy, “but moved up centre-forward. You had lads like Mike Deegan, Conor and Keith Galvin, Jody O’Connor and Damian Considine on that team.
“I gave it up after, but I remember playing a league game when I was 54. We were up in Crusheen and we only had 13 players. ‘Feck that,’ I said, ‘give me a jersey’. I went out with my shoes and stockings just to make up a team and we won the league the same year. It was a summer’s evening and a few lads hadn’t turned up. My sons Ogie and Sean were playing the same evening,” adds Murphy.
Struggling to field teams, but by then things were beginning to move – the real impetus having come in the late 1980s when Clare Football Board supremo Gabriel Keating set up an East Clare Board, with his former parish priest on the Loophead peninsula, Fr Seosamh O’Dea as the chairman and driving force.
“That was a big thing,” says Michael Houlihan, a football man from Knockerra who came to live in Cratloe in the 1980s. “Fr O’Dea was involved in all things Gaelic and through that East Clare Board that was founded around 1987/88 we started fielding juvenile teams for the first time – at under 12, under 14, under 16 with the co-operation of club.
“That it was an East Clare Board was very important,” continues Houlihan, “because we didn’t have to travel very far for games. We were playing teams like Parteeen, Clonlara, Meelick, Killaloe and Whitegate.
“We won that east Clare championship a good few times at under 12, 14 and 16 and it qualified you to enter county championship at quarter-final level. Then we won division 3 of the ocunty in all grades as the years went on with players like Barry Duggan, Michael Hawes, Ogie Murphy and David Ryan coming through from there.
“There was football in the school from the time Jody O’Connor came and then when the moved to secondary school they were in Shannon and Limerick and there was more football there,” he adds.
Houlihan was the early driving force, with others like Jody O’Connor, Joe Ward, founder member John Ryan and Jack Liddane, who played on that first team in 1977, also playing key roles.
Then came the Kilmihil connection that fired enthusiasm for football at underage level even further. First it was Martin Murphy, then Colm Collins, both of whom had soldiered together on Kilmihil’s championship winning team in 1980s.
“Myself and Sean O’Dea were asked one night down in Setwrights would we take over the Minor C team,” recalls Murphy. “We started there and we won two minor Cs titles which was an early base. Then Colm Collins got involved and the whole thing took off, ” he adds.
“Colm came in and he was obsessed and that’s the reason why where we are,” says Batt O’Connor, yet another member of Kilmihil’s class of 1980 to throw in his lot with Cratloe. “He brought all those young lads up through the ranks. He was brilliant.
“He took coaching of football to a new level and was gifted with the group of players that came on board,” says Michael Houlihan. “They all came at the one time and all gifted footballers, natural talents and the level of fitness superb,” he adds.
“We were lucky to come across a fantastic bunch of lads and we played a lot of football,” says Collins of Cratloe rise. “These fellas have a lot of football played – even though they have to divide their time between football and hurling they have a lot done and they love it.
“When we started first I remember being beaten by Miltown in a B final – it was under 12 or 14. Our first victory was an Under 16 A against the giants Kilmurry Ibrickane in 2005.
That gave us fantastic self-belief and we had a great run at Under 16 A after that, contesting five finals and won three of them. The minor win in 2008 was huge. We had been unlucky a few other years, being beaten by Ennisytmon in a semi-final one year but eventually we beat them in that final and it was a big lift,” he adds.
“What they’ve won at underage shows you that they haven’t arrived from nowhere,” says Houlihan. “A minor, two under 21s at A grade. This has been coming for the last seven or eight years,” he adds.
Everyone has played their part, even a former Doonbeg manager in Laoisman Ger Lawlor who worked with Collins at underage an intermediate level.
It shows what can be achieved when the wokr is put in.
Cratloe football has come a long way from that AGM in January 1977.
They’re 60 minutes from going all the way and bringing Jack Daly down the N18.

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Joe Ó Muircheartaigh graduated from University College Dublin in 1989 with a degree in history and politics. After completing a Diploma in Journalism at The College of Commerce, Rathmines in 1991, he embarked on a career in journalism. Joe spent four years with Clare FM from 1992 and was with The Clare Champion from 1996 to 2005. He has won two McNamee Awards for GAA journalism and has published two books. Contact Joe on [email protected]

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