THERE were 27 on the bus that left early from Ciaran’s Bar on Ennis’ Causeway and headed in the direction of the Giant’s Causeway.
Indeed, the bus arrived back so late that those waiting back home could have been forgiven for believing that the pilot Gerry Collins’ sat nav had homed in on the Giant’s playground and not Ennis’ Causeway.
Then there were the cars, the dozen or so Clare registered ones that travelled – some with a full cargo, others with just a driver and companion, more with just a radio for company.
In all these hardy annuals made up about 50, 60 at the very most. Believers all, when it’s much easier to be a doubter and stay at home.
From Gerry Collins behind the wheel of the bus through to parents like Tommy Tubridy, Danny Coughlan, John McGrath, Martin Brennan and more; pilgrims like Kilnamona’s Anne Greene who’s secretary of the Dublin-based Supporters Club and Moy’s Michael McNamara who is also based in the capital.
God knows they’d made the journey in previous years – in confidence and no little hope only to return home with nothing. But still they travelled, that 50 or so who were drawn from all corners of the county for the cause of the big ball, in the hope of finally seeing success.
From Michael Boland heading out towards the tip the peninsula to Clare chief superintendent in civvies, John Kerin, who hails from the heart of the Burren – all the way down to the borders of Limerick in Meelick from where the parents of Kevin and Barry Harnett trained their way to Belfast.
The Harnetts thought the game was in Casement Park, but it says much about the community spirit that has wrapped itself around the Clare senior footballers in 2014 that the county board chairman Michael McDonagh arranged for them to be collected from the city and ferried the 25 miles or so out the road to Creggan and then insisted that they travel back home on the team bus.
It was that community of practice that was needed out of the field when Clare turned to face the wind in the second half.
Clare’s chances looked bleak at half-time. The black hole of Division 4 football looked darker than it ever has been over the past number of years as those wides started to mount during that first half – especially after Shane McGrath’s thunderbolt hit the woodwork instead of the rigging and then a subsequent 14-yard free was driven wide.
Same old, same old.
David Tubridy’s prodigious free from the hands against Limerick in Cusack Park in 2010 that drifted just wide when a point would have bagged a draw and promotion; the goal chance that fell between Shane McGrath and Rory Donnelly two years later in Aughrim only for the ball to bounce Wicklow’s way to enable them clear their lines; the missed penalty against Limerick in 2013.
Not again.
Not on the this day thanks to this remarkable about turn in the second half when Clare chased down a victory in a manner which made you believe they never had any doubts.
It was as if those who had shared in those disappointments in 2010, ’12 and ’13 – the likes of Gordon Kelly, Martin McMahon, Enda Coughlan, David Tubridy and Gary Brennan – said enough was enough, while the newcomers were also imbued with that same drive and will.
What a luxury it was to be able to spring an All-Ireland man like Padraic Collins in the second half, who helped turn the game decisively in Clare’s favour in the crucial third quarter.
Then there was the marauding presence of young Ciarán Russell – his father Tom is a legendary figure in Ulster club football, winning three county championships and an provincial medal with Castleblayney Faughs during his time there in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
This was Ciarán’s turn to make his mark on football in the fourth green field as he drove Clare forward up the right flank of the field in that second half.
And as manager Colm Collins pointed out afterwards it was only his second ever game for Clare – at any level – coming seven days after his debut against Carlow.
The sat nav was certainly working on the field in that second half as Russell, Collins and co homed in on the Antrim goal.
As was the one in the Ciaran’s boogie bus, eventually, as it made it back to the Causeway before midnight.
Day done? Hardly. Round two was only beginning. In Ciaran Browne’s.

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