Liam Griffin won an All-Ireland Under 21 medal with Wexford, while also representing Clare in the grade. The Wexford legend spoke to Joe Ó Muircheartaigh about his love of the Banner County from his playing days with the all-conquering Newmarket-on-Fergus Blues and Clare.
“WHERE have all the years gone,” laughs Liam Griffin as he scans back nearly 50 years to when Wexford had some of the best underage hurlers in the country.
Minor All-Ireland winners in 1963, ’66 and ’68 – Under 21 All-Ireland champions for the only time during this golden period for underage hurling in the county, which is something similar to what Clare are now enjoying.
It was 12 September, 1965. Nowlan Park. Only the second ever All-Ireland Under 21 final. Wexford beat Tipperary by 3-7 to 1-4, thus avenging the 8-9 to 3-1 hammering they suffered against the same opposition in the previous year’s final.
“Hard to believe we haven’t won an All-Ireland since in the grade,” says Griffin. “It’s incredible really. We got to three finals in a row, but after that no All-Ireland win. It’s an amazing statistic,” he adds.
Another stat is that Griffin was part of it all – a sub among stars in that ’65 squad, winning an All-Ireland medal just a couple of months after he’d moved to Clare to begin his studies in Brendan O’Regan’s Shannon Hotel School.
“It was a great Wexford team,” he says. “Dan Quigley, Vinny Staples, Willie Murphy were on it – they formed the half-back line that won the senior All-Ireland final in ’68. Tony Doran was on that team, while you had Mick Jacob in goal and we beat a Tipperary team that included Babs Keating.
“The following year I couldn’t get back to Wexford to play – it would have been impossible to get back and forward to play hurling so I wasn’t involved with the team that got to the final again and drew twice with Cork before losing the second replay.
“Instead I started hurling in Clare. I would have been known to fellas in Clare at that stage because of the Harty Cup. I was captain of the De La Salle in Waterford in ’65 and we got to the Harty final for the first time ever that year.”
Shannon was in the Newmarket-on-Fergus parish then, so the Blues soon came calling. They’d lost their county title in ’66 when going for a four-in-a-row – the 12-month suspensions handed down to Jimmy Cullinan, Paddy McNamara and Jim Woods for playing in New York costing them dear that year.
All three were back in ’67, along with new recruit Griffin.
“I was only there for a few years, but I couldn’t say enough about them,” says Griffin. “They took me in as one of their own and even to this day I have great friends there.
“I had come from a non-hurling club – it was mainly a football club, so really the first hurling club I played for was Newmarket-on-Fergus.
“We won 21s and seniors and I never played on a beaten Newmarket team for the couple of years that I was there. I never lost a match.
“They brought me back to play a county final one year. They didn’t need me to win it, but they still brought me back from Switzerland.
“It was amazing and a lot more difficult to do it then that it would be now. You had to ring Dublin, then London, then Zurich and eventually make contact with me in a restaurant in the middle of Switzerland, but they still brought me back,” he adds.
It meant that in two seasons he plundered two county senior championship medal, two Under 21s and two Clare Cups, while there was also a Junior A football championship title with Moohane.
“Because of Newmarket I got to play for Clare,” says Griffin. “Newmarket played me onto the Clare team – I was never that good, but thanks to Newmarket I played senior hurling for Clare.
“Pat ‘Fagin’ Cronin was as good a forward as there was in the game and I never saw him held scoreless with either Clare or Newmarket – he was that good. Jimmy Cullinan, Michael Arthur, Paddy McNamara, Michael Considine, Gus Lohan. Great, great players and a fantastic team.
“I was the only man in the half-forward line not playing for Munster – you had Paddy Mac, Pat Cronin and myself. You felt like a Junior B hurler when the two lads beside you were playing for Munster,” he adds.
For the county Griffin lined out at midfield for the Under 21s in 1967 and was brought into the senior squad later that year for the Oireachtas competition, while he made his league debut against Dublin in early ’68.
“It was a good Clare team,” he says, “and I played in the league semi-final against Kilkenny that went to three games. I was carried off in one of the games – Jim Treacy did a job on me. I was probably looking for it, shaping and over-carrying the ball. He got me anyway.
“Getting to play for Clare was huge. My father was a Clare man and was mad into hurling. One of the greatest thrills I had – and I had lots of thrills in hurling – was lining out for Clare.
“My father was there when he played. He used to be fighting a lone battle in Wexford telling people how good Clare were – talking about Jimmy Smyth, Matt Nugent, Mick Hayes, Dan McInerney and all the great players who had beaten the great Wexford team in the Oireachtas of ’54.
“He was a huge hurling man and I got my love of the game from him. My brother says that if he had lived long enough to see Clare and Wexford win the All-Irelands in 1995 and ’96, those two games would have definitely killed him.”
Above right: Liam Griffin.