HAVE to say there’s something about the Shams that strikes a chord with football folk in Clare – in Ennis because it’s probably a Townie thing, but it’s also a country thing.
In Ennis it’s to do with an age-old rivalry between the two big centres, while in the country it’s probably more to do with football people looking at the broader picture of wanting the Shams to be strong for the good of Clare football.
The Shams, or the Shamrocks of Erin as they were called in their early days, assumed the mantle of the standardbearers of the football tradition in Kilrush in the late 1890s.
Up to then it was just Kilrush or the Shannon Sweepers as they were called at the time, except that they didn’t’ sweep up any county titles.
It wasn’t until the Shams came to the GAA party that things really started moving in the west Clare capital – the birth of the first great Kilrush combination coming in 1897 when they contested the county final against Ennis Dalcassians.
The Dals won the day, but so began the greatest rivalry of that football age, with the Shams having six county final days out against each other between ’97 and ’04.
That first final went to three games – the first installment in Thynne’s Field in Lahinch being won by the Dals on a 1-3 to 0-3 scoreline only for the Shams to win a second day out on an objection. It was back to Lahinch once more, only for the second game to be abandoned before the Dals finally got over the line in Game 3 on a 0-4 to 0-3 scoreline.
The Shams finally came of age as county champions in 1902 when beating the Dals in front of over 5,000 spectators in Lahinch in a contest described by The Clareman as “the finest exhibition of the game witnessed in County Clare for a long time” on what was “a red-letter day in the annals of the Gaelic Athletic Association in the Banner County”.
So began the Shams’ winning tradition as they became powerhouses of the game in Clare, retaining the title the following year against the Dals before their three-in-a-row hopes were ended by the Ennis men after a final replay in ’04.
Maybe it’s because of those days and great games between Ennis and Kilrush that there’s always been a great relationship between the two football centres – the Faughs and the Shams had many memorable duels in the late ‘40s and ‘50s, while that tradition was brought forward to more recent times in ’94 when they contested a county final.
The Faughs beat the Shams that year – after another replay of course – but in many ways the most memorable thing about the whole county final occasion was the mystery tour that would have done Michael Tierney proud on the Monday after the drawn game as a group of players drawn from both squads went on the beer in towns and country.
Cruise’s of Ennis to start with, with the late Brendan Murphy at the wheel, before the journey was broken early and often. In Mai Considine’s in Barefield and then again in Crowley’s of Corofin before we finally made it to Lisdoonvarna. It was a great day out and there’ll have to be a reunion one of the years.
Why? Because reunions are great and very important in their own way.
That’s why it was great to see the greatest Shamrocks of Erin squad come together over the weekend as they reeled in the years to when they were kings and ruled Clare football like no other team when winning five county titles in a row from 1975 to ’99.
The team that Raymond Clancy built. The team with huge characters like PJ Kennedy, Tom Prendeville, the O’Dohertys, Michael Eustace, the Fennells, the Moloneys, Liam ‘Stonewall’ McNamara and many more.
The team inspired by on and off the field by the football presence and stature of Brian O’Reilly, whose return to Kilrush from Mayo has always been seen as the catalyst and the starting point of this storied chapter in the Shams’ football story.
“Brian O’Reilly was one of the greatest players I ever saw,” said the high priest of Kilrush football, Raymond Clancy.
“Brian O’Reilly set the standard,” said Clancy. “I have no hesitation in saying that Brian O’Reilly would have got on any team in Ireland. If he was a Kerryman he’d have All-Irelands.
“He was a great team player – he was a great player, but the team was more important. He played for the team. You wanted to play him in 15 places. He was willing to subordinate his own marvellous talents for the good of the team. He was always at his best on the day you had real problems in winning a game.
“I remember we played a game against Kilkee in the latter stages of our five-in-a-row run. Kilkee were coming that time I remember we were very bad the same day, but Brian O’Reilly was absolutely superb. That was the kind of thing Brian O’Reilly always did – the day you really wanted someone to pull something out of the bag, he’d do it for you,” he added.
The Shams always pulled it out of the bag in those years, to win that five-in-a-row, to beat Austin Stacks in the Munster Club quarter-final in 1979 on what was one of the greatest days in the history of Clare football.
Remember, this was only a few months after the ‘Miltown Massacre’, Clare’s 9-21 to 1-9 defeat to Kerry in the Munster championship, yet the Shams did more than just restore pride in Clare football against Kerry opposition – they took the ferry from Killimer to Tarbert, went on to Tralee and beat a Stacks team that included Mikey Sheehy, John O’Keeffe, Ger O’Keeffe, Ger Power and Dinny Long in its ranks by 1-10 to 0-9 in their own backyard.
“This will go down as one of the sensations of the year in football, the day the champions of Clare came to Tralee and beat the champions of Kerry, but let nobody run away with the idea that it was a freak result, or anything of the sort,” said The Kerryman report afterwards.
“For Austin Stacks were beaten fairly and squarely by a team that produced a truly heart warming brand of football – dashing, gutsy, skilful stuff that made a mockery of Clare’s lowly rating in Munster football.”
“The victory, sensational as it might have appeared to a lot of people was no more than the Kilrush men deserved and it will be no great surprise. There wasn’t a weak link on the team with one man as good as the next,” it added.
Nothing else needs to be said about that great Kilrush Shamrocks of Erin team, except that it was a great injustice that the Munster title the team so richly deserved remained tantalizingly out of reach in those years.
However, the absence of a Munster title doesn’t take away one bit from their greatness. Their place in the pantheon is secure. They knew that themselves when reeling in the years over the weekend.

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