Michéal McDermott was the man that looked to new horizons and in an effort to widen football’s playing base in Clare sought out players of Banner County parentage and beyond and persuading them to throw in their lot with the saffron and blue, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.
Looking to Clare football’s diaspora
DID you know that Brian Talty declared himself a Claremen when it came to football.
The old Tuam Star and then a Parnells man in Dublin, who famously had tunnel vision as he made his way to the dressing room at half-time when playing for Galway against Dublin in the 1983 All-Ireland final.
But Clare? Declaring for Clare?
Believe or not it happened, as Michéal McDermott explains.
“We did it to get his son Conor Talty eligible to play,” says the Clare manager from 2010 to ’12. “Conor didn’t fall under the parentage rule as the rule states that your mother or father has to be from the county, or your mother or father has to be designated within the county.
“But Brian Talty’s father was a Clareman so we actually got Brian registered as a Clare footballer so that Conor could play with the Clare seniors. Once Brian was registered as a home player, with Clare being his home county, Conor was eligible to play for Clare as a result of that. It was all above board and all legitimate”.
It was the Clare seniors spreading the net as far as possible — the policy inspired by McDermott in late 2010 as he prepared for his second season in charge of the county; the policy that has given Clare football a huge injection in recent years.
Shane McGrath and Pat Burke are the two stand-out figures.
Thomas Davis man McGrath now preparing for his fourth championship campaign has been a stand-out player since making his debut in a Division 4 league game against Waterford in Cusack Park; Kilmacud Croke Burke in his first year with Clare, but already a stand-out as his championship debut with the county comes around.
“It’s a big thing for Clare to get players of that calibre,” says McDermott, “and where I was coming from was this — whoever wanted to commit to the Clare jersey and who were eligible for Clare I went after.
“You had to get every available resource to try and be successful. Yes I was aware of the club scene and mindful of it and would have given everybody and opportunity to trial to come on board and to make the Clare panel.
“But I wanted to extend the net, where there was eligibility there that could improve Clare football and bring it forward and get the best players available to us, I was prepared to do that,” he adds.
For Cavanman McDermott is was the Breffni County experience that prompted him to cast the net. “I was aware that there were a number of designated counties that could use players from outside the county,” he says.
“Cavan were one of the designated counties under an old historical rule and Nesty Smith, a Dub playing his club football with Oliver Plunketts, was allowed play for Cavan under that rule. Laois were also one of the counties.
“Clare weren’t a designated county under this rule at the time, but we approached the GAA and got permission to be designated as one those counties. I went about doing a trawl to see if there were players out there who could and wanted to play for Clare. I have a very good friend up in Kildare — a guy by the name of Frank Duffy, who was of great help in sourcing players around Dublin and Kildare,” he adds.
Niall Browne came on board for the 2011 season and Shane McGrath the following year — to date they’re the two imports to make an impact in championship.
“Niall played championship for two years and in the 2012 Munster Championship Final,” says McDermott, “while getting Shane was a little bit more difficult and it took a while to get him on board,
“When he came in 2012 it was a Clarewoman that had a big impact in him coming, that was Noelle Comyn. She played county football with his sister (Sinead) and knew Shane and it was she who convinced him to give it a go with Clare.
“The guys that came on board, the one thing I’ll give credit for is that they were true Claremen and once they put on that jersey they showed tremendous commitment and pride in putting on that jersey.
“In addition to that so did their parents. I’ve met Shane McGrath’s father John, who played for Clare, at many games and while he didn’t want to make the decision for Shane I think he takes great pride in his son lining out with his native county,” he adds.
Pat Burke Snr, another former Clare senior, certainly feels the same.
“It was important for us that we got the right type of person who wanted to play for Clare for the right reasons and had the right personality and characteristics that would bond them in well with everyone else on the local scene,” says McDermott.
“Looking ahead to this game, I think that result in the league is the best thing for Clare — it’s great to be going into a championship match with Limerick.
“The last game will be a huge motivating factor. You cannot underestimate what a motivating factor that will be for Clare. You can’t over-emphasise home advantage either. It’s a big, big boost to Clare.
“The league was good for Clare, even though they didn’t get promoted, but they finished it well. Colm will have learned an awful lot about his players in the league and I think they will win.”